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The mass of unemployment claims online is forcing the DEO to turn to paper applications.

Coronavirus in Florida

Ron DeSantis administration disputes report, says work search requirement can be waived

Spokeswomen within the administration called the report false.

According to a FOX 13 Tampa Bay report, unemployed Floridians still have to confirm every two weeks that they are searching for work to receive federal unemployment benefits despite an order temporarily rescinding that requirement.

But spokeswomen for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) told Florida Politics Saturday that the TV station’s report was false.

Last week, DeSantis ordered DEO to temporarily waive work search requirements to help lighten the load on the overburdened unemployment application system. Speaking with reporters the day of the executive order, the Governor suggested the U.S. Department of Labor had cleared the requirement.

But with the requirement waived, DEO’s CONNECT system has not yet been updated reflect the waiver, despite the site stating it’s no longer required. Floridians have turned to social media to express their confusion and frustration with the conflicting information, as they have throughout the COVID-19 unemployment debacle.

FOX 13’s report suggested the CARES Act requires applicants meet the state’s requirements that were in place when the act became law in late March, not the new rules per the executive order. The report paraphrases Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter, tapped to right the CONNECT system, as saying the state can’t suspend the work search requirement for the federal checks for that reason. It goes on to say the DeSantis Administration “has determined it has to keep the requirements in place while at the same time ordering the same requirement to be removed.”

But the Governor’s spokeswoman, Helen Aguirre Ferré said that report was false. DEO’s spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said that report didn’t have the complete story and did not immediately know the context of the statement that sparked the dispute.

When applying through the CONNECT portal, applicants are denied the additional weekly $600 check provided to unemployed Americans through the emergency act. While the system is down over the weekend, the state is working to manually push through those applicants until CONNECT is updated.

The work search rule was one step of the bureaucratic red tape the Governor initially wanted eliminated to clear a path for Floridians to get state unemployment benefits. When DEO was too slow in suspending the requirement, he ordered the move.

“This one, I didn’t think I needed to do an executive order for because the Labor Department has said this can be waived,” DeSantis told reporters last week. “The agency didn’t do it, so I had to force their hand to do it, and I think that that’ll make things move a little bit smoother.”

According to Satter, 80,000 of the 850,000 Floridians in the queue at the time of the order would be able to receive their benefits because of the Governor’s order. Ferré told Florida Politics the change was two-fold, alleviating the stress on the system and the stress for Floridians who are unlikely to find jobs as the economic tailspin continues.

The state has also cleared the way for some Floridians to get unemployment checks retroactively from when they lost their job, as far back as March 9. CARES Act dollars can also be offered retroactively beginning when the clock started for that legislation in late March.

As of Friday, 1.9 million people had submitted unemployment claims in Florida since March 15, nearly 100,000 more than the day before. Of those, the state has verified 786,340 unique claims. The state has only paid out unemployment benefits to 21% of the confirmed unique claims, totaling $192 billion in benefits.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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