Democratic Lawmakers Demand DeSantis Act Quickly, Fix Florida's Broken Unemployment System
Today, State Senator José Javier Rodríguez, and State Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith held a press call with the Florida Democratic Party to demand Governor Ron DeSantis take immediate action to fix Florida’s unemployment insurance system. The Sunshine State still offers some of the worst unemployment benefits in the country and Floridians struggle to get through the outdated and glitchy system to even apply for the benefits.
Before the call, Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, called out DeSantis and Republican leaders for creating this unemployment insurance crisis:
“Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature must fix Rick Scott’s broken unemployment system. Florida only supplies 12 weeks of benefits and the maximum benefit is more than a hundred dollars below the national average. Democrats and Republicans have put together unemployment assistance at the federal level to assist the unemployed – we must do the same in Florida and we must act fast.”
Highlights from today’s press call:
State Senator José Javier Rodríguez:
“One of the biggest challenges we have is that we have a broken unemployment system, and frankly it was broken before the current crisis”
[...] “A web application system that has been riddled with problems before the crisis is now effectively down. They’re scrambling to get this thing up and running so people can actually apply -- and the reason why this is extremely important, and the reason why we’re talking about this, is that we have robust and meaningful federal programs now during the economic crisis...it comes at a moment when our system is effectively down.”
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith:
“I’ve joined [my colleagues on the call] in calling for not only the expansion of these benefits, but also to insist that we have the resources available to answer peoples’ questions and to fix this website right away because, at the end of the day, anyone who applies for re-employment benefits right now in the state of Florida through our state website or tries to call-in simply is not able to do so -- there are that many problems.”
State Representative Anna Eskamani:
“I think it’s really, really important for this current crisis that we fix this system immediately. I told the governor’s office in early March about the need for more staff … I went to the governor’s office and said ‘we really need to make sure that we have staff for unemployment insurance because we’re going to see a flood of people call.’ Warnings were given. We saw what was already happening in other parts of the world, and yet no steps were done to improve the website, no steps were done to think about the nuances of eligibility requirements…”
[...] “If folks can’t get onto the system, if they can’t sign up for this program, they’re not going to get state benefits, nor will they get federal benefits.”
DeSantis’s initial steps to ease some of the barriers to receiving unemployment benefits do not go far enough to solve the glaring problems of the state’s unemployment system. The state needs to expand the number of weeks Floridians can receive unemployment, increase the cap past the meager $275/week, improve the state’s website and hotline, and roll back punitive restrictions enacted by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2011.
The system is so burdensome and restrictive, a 2015 report by the National Employment Law Project found that fewer than one in eight Floridians receive jobless benefits and six in ten had been denied benefits without ever receiving any jobless benefits at all.