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Florida Congressional Democrats Call On DeSantis To Help Unemployed People

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., speaks as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on budget on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik
AP Photo

Thousands of Floridians are struggling to apply for unemployment benefits. Long waits on hold, a crashing website and now long lines to pick up paper applications are slowing the process down. The state’s Democratic Congressional Caucus is calling for Governor Ron DeSantis to make the process faster and make benefits start from the day a person was fired, not the day their application went through.

DeSantis announced Monday new servers had brought the state’s unemployment application system up to speed, but Congresswoman Lois Frankel says the calls she’s gotten from her constituents say otherwise.

"Governor, we want you to know that this process is not fixed we've had people on it this morning that could not get through," Frankel said.

Frankel's worried the backlog of people waiting to be approved will continue to grow instead of decrease.

"As of today I think there are 560 thousand backlogged applications," Frankel said.

The Department of Economic Opportunity has said the agency can process up to 80 thousand applications a week. DeSantis has waived the work search requirement and the one-week waiting period before applicants can begin to receive benefits. But Congresswoman Donna Shalala says the state needs to act faster. She says Congress has given all states the ability to help their residents.

"If I was Governor, I would triple the number of people that are going to process these claims. There are no resource problems because we allocated millions of dollars for the states to build up their capacity to process the claims," Shalala said. "And we just have to get it done. We can't take weeks to get people their checks, it's just not fair to them."

Caucus members are pushing DeSantis to make benefit pay retroactive to the date workers were fired. They argue issues with the state’s system are preventing applications from going through and Floridians shouldn’t be penalized. During a recent press briefing, DeSantis said he agrees and is working with Department of Economic Opportunity Head Ken Lawson on the issue.

“I told Ken if they’ve been frustrated from applying and then finally now the systems better to apply, then I think that should be something that should be taken into consideration," DeSantis said. "I mean it’s not like they were sitting on their hands not doing anything. So hopefully they'll be able to do that."

But Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz says something needs to be done now.

“To whatever degree the Governor doesn’t think he has the emergency authority. Then they need to call the legislature into special session. Certainly they need to do that in a way that they can practice social distancing but if we can do it in Congress they can do it in the state legislature," Wasserman Schultz said.

Frankel who hosted Tuesday's conference call listed the other things caucus members want the Governor to do.

"He needs to extend the length of Florida's unemployment benefits from 12 to 26 weeks, increase the maximum benefit from $275 a week to one that's comparable with our average salary here in Florida," Frankel said.

Members also want to make sure that Florida takes advantage of the CARES Act passed by Congress that would allow thirteen additional weeks of state benefits. The group also urges that it should be made clear to self-employed citizens that they too can apply for unemployment. Democrats said they've gotten calls that some who are self-employed haven't been approved for unemployment in Florida, something provided for by the Congress in the CARES Act.