Editorial: Florida must address its unemployment crisis NOW
As our state enters its sixth month of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 1.1 million Florida residents remain unemployed.
And those are just the people known to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). It doesn’t count those who have become so frustrated that they’ve given up on looking for a job. Or stopped applying for unemployment benefits.
The latest figures from the state show that 1.89 million jobless residents have received at least some payment. Unfortunately, another 1 million applicants never received a dime, one of the worst processing rates in the country.
This has gone on far too long. Florida lawmakers should go into special session and fix this – now. In a matter of days, they could return to Tallahassee with a singular focus: To get money into the pockets of eligible unemployed Floridians.
What the state has been doing so far is simply not working. Not when households are threatened with eviction or electricity shut-offs. Not when community food lines have become a daily reality.
DEO says it has distributed $13.9 billion in state and federal assistance to unemployment claimants — the bulk of that money coming from the $600-per-week allotment from the federal CARES ACT. But it’s potentially hundreds of millions of dollars that have never been distributed to desperate claimants that’s so concerning.
By now, it is painfully obvious that fixing the problems stemming from Florida CONNECT, the state’s rickety $77.9 million unemployment benefits system, should not be left to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The task is too big, too immediate.
Even the governor admits that the system, developed under his predecessor, Rick Scott, has been flawed since its conception.
In an interview this month with Miami television reporter Jim DeFede, DeSantis said he believes the “animating philosophy” in putting the CONNECT system together was to discourage people seeking jobless benefits.
DeSantis said, “I think the goal was for whoever designed, it was, ‘Let's put as many kind of pointless roadblocks along the way, so people just say, oh, the hell with it, I'm not going to do that.’”
The jobless rate was at 11.5% in July. With 64 of the state’s 67 counties operating under Phase 2 of DeSantis’ reopening plan, an estimated 66,322 new claims were filed in Florida during the week ending Aug. 15, up 4,738 from the prior week. Tourism was down 60.5% in the second quarter. Critical small businesses are still closing. And most of those that remain open have cut their staffs in half.
It truly boggles the mind how lawmakers – especially Republicans who control every lever of state government – can still look their constituents in the eye.
Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva ought to see this as an all-hands-on-deck situation. In only a few days, lawmakers could agree to bump up benefits – temporarily, at least — and authorize money for more staff to handle applications and calls.
Florida’s unemployed have hung out a “Help Wanted” sign. It’s time for their elected legislative leaders to do their jobs.
The Palm Beach Post