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DeSantis Orders Additional Servers, Employees In Rush To Fortify Beleaguered Unemployment System

Wilfredo Lee
AP Photo

As the number of Floridians filing for assistance skyrockets to half a million, the state is scrambling to fortify its beleaguered unemployment system. That means added servers to support more online users, and state agencies lending employees to help the effort, according to Governor Ron DeSantis.

“The website actually would be down more than half the time. It would take seven seconds just to connect through,” DeSantis said during a roundtable with state agency heads Monday. “That may have been okay in 1996, but not in 2020.”

Florida’s unemployment system has been the subject of intense criticism, even from DeSantis, for its failure to support a surge in users. DeSantis is now trying to provide reinforcements to the system, operated by the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“I ordered all the state agencies to pony up people to be able to help with this. Many of these folks have been working at home for weeks now. Some of them are considered non-essential and have been told to stay at home, but we need all hands on deck now,” DeSantis said during the discussion.

More than 2,000 employees from other agencies will be lent to DEO to help with the application verification process.

Department of Revenue director Jim Zingale says his agency is lending 500 of its employees to the effort. He says his agency is uniquely situated to help because of the secure network at its disposal, used for its child support system.

“The part of the system the Department of Revenue’s going to be working in, is the final verification step … before they do the calculation and mail out the checks,” Zingale said.

With so many people accessing the system and calling the agency, system crashes and hours-long wait times on the phone have been commonplace.

The Governor says 72 computer servers have been added to reinforce the system, which will now allow for 120,000 people to access it at one time. Previously unused backup servers were also connected to the system, according to DeSantis. He says the beefing up of staff and tech capabilities is in an effort to expedite payments to people out of work.

“As a result of this effort, DEO has told me that they think they can process 80,000 claims this week,” DeSantis told media gathered in the Cabinet meeting room.

That puts only a dent in the total applications for unemployment assistance, which are flooding in. Ken Lawson, DEO’s director, says they’re coming in in unprecedented numbers.

“Just last year, our agency received a total of 326,653 applications for reemployment assistance,” Lawson said. “From March 15 to April 5, we received 520,000 applications for reemployment assistance.”

DeSantis says the state’s “blue collar” workers are bearing the brunt of economic turmoil brought on by COVID-19 closures.

“The white collar folks, the folks that are more affluent, you know, a lot of them have the luxury of working from home – so it’s a little bit of a change for them. And obviously, there have been some changes in that part of the economy too, I grant,” DeSantis said. “But I think the folks who have really been dislocated tend to be the more blue-collar folks.”

The Governor also on Monday signed an executive order saying federal aid that’s coming for small businesses through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act will not be taxed.