Gov. Ron DeSantis focused Monday on improvements being made to the state’s overwhelmed unemployment-compensation system, rather than his embattled appointee overseeing the work.
DeSantis, during a news conference at the Capitol that also included Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson, called the difficulties encountered by people seeking unemployment benefits “totally unacceptable.”
The system has been overwhelmed as businesses have shuttered or scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic. But newly made changes allowed the system to handle more than 22,000 unemployment applications before 10 a.m. Monday, officials said.
While demands on the system went up in recent weeks, DeSantis said people have faced difficulties because they “were having a tough time getting on. The site was down even more than it was even up at given times.” DeSantis also said that two weeks ago he was advised the online system was the “way to go.”
“And obviously it wasn’t ready,” DeSantis said.
[Local CareerSource of Flagler Volusia officials on Tuesday provided resources available to help with the unemployment application process. If you are having technical difficulties with the CONNECT system, you can call a LOCAL number or HELP in Volusia or Flagler Counties. 386-323-7052 There are 11 staff fielding calls to this line. If you get voicemail, LEAVE a message and your call will be returned. You can also find technical tips on their Facebook Page (all posts with a blue background are related to the unemployment assistance process).
Due to issues with the CONNECT website, paper applications for unemployment are being accepted. CareerSource has printed copies of the application (English and Spanish) and addressed/stamped envelopes available for pick up outside their office in Flagler (20 Airport Road, Suite E, Bunnell, in the Chamber of Commerce Building) If your organization would like to provide paper copies to your customers, contact Christine Sikora at [email protected] or 386-323-7082.]
DeSantis said he likes improvements coming from Lawson and other state agency heads as jobless claims have skyrocketed. When asked if the system was fixed, Lawson said the changes have made the process “better.”
Hundreds of call center operators are being rushed through training, paper applications are being made available and dozens of computer servers were brought from Orlando over the weekend to boost the online system’s capacity.
Also over the weekend, the state activated a previously built-in backup to the Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT unemployment system. The backup was designed as a redundancy when the system went down but had not been connected.
Lawson said he couldn’t answer how the system’s response would have been improved if the backup system was operational.
DeSantis, who took only a couple of questions from reporters, didn’t address a request on Friday by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, for an audit of the unemployment system or a separate call by Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, for Lawson to resign.
Lawson said after the news conference that he is focused on improving the system for people out of work rather than his own job security.
“My job right now is to do everything I can to make the system work,” Lawson said. “Today, make the system work. Today, make sure people don’t lose confidence in the government.”
Toledo wants the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee to audit spending on the CONNECT system, which cost $77 million to get online in 2013. Toledo serves on the committee.
Cruz pointed to “a complete breakdown in communication” as she demanded the resignation of Lawson.
“I understand the reemployment assistance benefit website was designed to fail, and that was not an action taken by your administration,” Cruz wrote to DeSantis. “But we need a plan, and that information must be communicated to members of the Legislature so we may effectively serve our constituents. All the department has communicated to me on the reemployment benefits system is to ‘be patient.’ and to ask those I represent to ‘be patient.’ That is disgraceful.”
Also involved in Monday’s event were Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter and Department of Revenue Executive Director Jim Zingale, whose agencies have identified workers that could be shifted to help in handling the mounting paperwork.
Lawson, who apologized for the system’s failures on Thursday during a Zoom teleconference with a couple of state lawmakers, said he’s seen changes “every day.”
To handle the increase in calls by people seeking assistance, a three-week training period has been cut to a matter of days. About 250 people started answering calls on Monday after being trained over the weekend. Another 500 people were being trained Monday to answer calls starting Tuesday.
Part of the increased staff will contact people who have applied for benefits to determine where they are in the process or to verify that applications have been completed, Lawson said.
Lawson said the system is set up so jobless contractors and other gig workers who may not qualify for Florida’s assistance of up to $275 a week for 12 weeks can file applications so they will be eligible for benefits through a federal-stimulus law. The federal law is slated to provide $600 a week for 13 weeks.
DeSantis also said Monday the state may consider allowing benefits to be retroactive to when people were laid off from their jobs rather than when applications were approved.
“If they’ve been frustrated from applying, and then finally now the system is better to apply, then I think that should be something that is taken into consideration,” DeSantis said. “I mean, it’s not like they were just sitting on their hands, not doing anything.”
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive
No faith says
BS as usual. Site isn’t working and phones are not answered. $77 million were given to buddies for hiring worst developers there are available and pocketing bulk of that dough, nothing to see nor investigate there. Move on slaves. You were told not to work and now no money is coming to you.
Get pitchforks and torches ready, folks!
Iif some research is done, you will find that almost every state has run into the same problem .Their systems were not designed to handle this type of load., From Bloomberg; ex: More than 108,000 people filed for unemployment benefits in Michigan last week, 20 times more than normal. Across America, state-run insurance systems are buckling under the weight of the new coronavirus’ economic fallout.
“Ohio apologized on Twitter for problems at its website and call center and started drafting employees from other divisions to help out.” “”Claims filed online in In Washington state were 18 times normal and the phone system was cutting off calls before they even connected, benefit seekers told the Seattle Times”” “”When 47,000 Louisianans filed claims last week — more than 30 times the weekly average — they crashed the website and the phone system cut off applicants in mid-sentence.”” “Tens of thousands of Hoosiers lost their jobs almost overnight due to social distancing measures that help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The sheer amount and speed of layoffs are putting enormous strain on the unemployment insurance system in Indiana.:: just a sampling……………………………………………. The problem is all across the US.
I am one of many Floridians that got put on Furlough. I’ve applied but keep getting a text that something is needed in my inbox. I’ve logged back on, nothing is there. I have called but can’t get through. I keep hearing how the small businesses are open and need our help with keeping them up and running by spending our money with them. What money? It’s certainly not my fault I was put onto furlough. Yet I can’t even support my household and I am being asked to spend money in my community that I don’t have.
Very disappointed in Desantis. Took forever for him to close the state and now taking forever to get unemployment rolled out to the people. He should get on TV and whine and throw a temper tantrum like Coumo at least he got his needs met. Or does Desantis even care? Two choices this past election him and a methhead. Pretty sad what we have for leaders for this state. Do they think we are stupid? Now we are significantly way short in tests so all the cases in Florida is incorrect. Is that what they are hoping for to look good against all the other states. The truth WILL get out. Desantis and your colleagues get your act together.