(The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state’s revamped unemployment system has sent checks to 97.6 percent of nearly 900,000 “processed” claimants’ applications, paying nearly $2.7 billion since March 15.
The state’ “has paid out more (in unemployment) the last 10 weeks than it has in the previous five years combined,” DeSantis said.
The governor staged a news conference Tuesday specifically to discuss the state’s embattled unemployment system after being confronted the past week by reporters who said they’ve been deluged by people demanding answers to why so many had not received unemployment payments.
DeSantis went through the on-the-run changes he has initiated after inheriting a $77 million system from his predecessor and now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott that he’s described as “designed to fail.”
“We had an unprecedented surge of unemployment claims. That was a tough challenge under any circumstance but even a greater challenge that the system the state paid a lot of money for was not up to task,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said the CONNECT website built by DeLoitte Consulting was capable of handling 1,000 people on the site simultaneously and could boost-up to 5,000, but when the response to the COVID-19 emergency forced businesses to shut down, it was overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands – now nearly 2 million – jobless Floridians.
The CONNECT system was “the equivalent of throwing a jalopy into the Daytona 500,” he said.
By mid-April, only about 15 percent of claims had been paid, and the backlog was mushrooming.
In response, DeSantis authorized at least $100 million to upgrade the Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) CONNECT website, purchased 72 servers, reassigned 2,000 state workers to help and tapped Department of Management Services Secretary Jon Satter to manage it.
“The system was down 75 percent of the time,” he said.
DeSantis encouraged residents to file paper applications that FedEx and CareerSource agreed to provide and mail for free. More than 100,000 applications have been received that way, he said.
In addition, he said, the state contracted five call centers that have trained 6,000 representatives to answer unemployment questions.
DeSantis suspended “waiting a week” and weekly recertification requirements imposed under the Scott administration and, rather than rely on the federal government to confirm social security numbers, asked the state’s Department of Transportation to do so.
The governor said 391,000 applications have been rejected for an assortment of reasons, usually because they’re incomplete, are ineligible, being challenged by employers or “locked for fraudulent activity,” which, he acknowledged, could be a result of frustrated attempts to file.
“Sometimes, people didn’t realize they were being paid and submitted another one,” DeSantis said.
The governor cited updated numbers not available on the DEO’s Reemployment Assistance Claims dashboard site as he spoke.
The DEO reported Tuesday that 1.441 of 1.585 million – or 90.9 percent – of “confirmed unique” claims filed by state residents since March 15 had been processed, with 896,921 – or 91.4 percent – of “eligible claimants” having received payments totaling $2.078 billion.
More than 370,500 applicants were ineligible for state and federal unemployment assistance, although DEO said some still may qualify for PUA. In addition, DeSantis maintained “99.99 percent” of rejected applicants failed to provide necessary information, such as Social Security numbers, or filed claims being challenged by employers.
According to DEO, of the $2.078 billion paid in jobless assistance to Floridians through Tuesday, $840.175 million had been paid in state claims, $1.212 billion in federal unemployment compensation and $25.720 million in PUA.
Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, released her daily Florida Unemployment Benefits Watch statement shortly after DeSantis’ press conference concluded: “Day 72. 665,420 Floridians still waiting for payment. #PayTheClaimsNow.”