TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Rick Scott wrote in a campaign fundraising email sent Thursday night that Americans thrown out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic would rather collect unemployment than go back to work.
“Businesses looking to reopen are telling us their employees don’t want to come back to work because they collect more on unemployment,” Scott‘s email said. “And who can blame them?”
In the email, Scott railed against the $600-per-week unemployment benefits Congress allotted to out-of-work Americans, and he blamed Democrats for allowing it to go through. The benefits made up a part of a $2 trillion package called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. It passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 96-0 in late March.
One of those votes belonged to Scott, although at the time he had strong objections, including that some workers would receive benefits exceeding their former salaries.
“When I discovered that the CARES Act allowed workers to make more on unemployment insurance than they could make in a job, I fought back,” his email states. ”Why would Democrats in Congress want to create a disincentive for people to come back to work when we open our economy back up?”
Scott spokesman Chris Hartline said the fundraising email was meant to promote the senator’s op-ed in Fox News, and he pointed to examples in other states of businesses claiming that their employees are making more in unemployment than in their jobs. The CEO of Domino’s, however, said he’s seen the opposite.
“Senator Scott supported significantly expanding unemployment insurance in the CARES Act but he, along with a handful of colleagues, worried that paying workers more to be on a government program than they could make in a job would lead workers to make the rational decision to delay returning to work, harming our economic recovery,” Hartline said in a statement. “Now we know that he and his colleagues were right.”
But in Florida, most out-of-work Floridians have been unable to get either jobs or unemployment, and they’ve grown increasingly desperate, with food banks reporting a surge in demand.
Up to 1.8 million Floridians thrown out of work from the coronavirus have filed claims since March 15 — up to 18 percent of the state’s workforce.
Hardly any of them — just 153,788 — have been able to receive unemployment in large part because of the policies and programs Scott supported and put into place during his eight years as Florida governor.
Riding a wave of Tea Party grievances against government spending, Scott entered office in 2011 just three years into the Great Recession. He passed a number of policies promoted by big businesses.
He signed hallmark legislation requiring recipients to take a 45-question skills test and prove every week that they’ve sought work from five employers — more than in any other state. The law also cut the number of weeks people are eligible for unemployment assistance and made it easier for the state to deny benefits for “misconduct.” It also required recipients to file claims online and reapply every two weeks.
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While Scott’s predecessor, Charlie Crist, oversaw the selection of the company that launched the state’s now-crippled unemployment website, Scott oversaw the two-year development and disastrous 2013 rollout of the website. In 2015 and 2016, state auditors found that the site had numerous glitches and problems that are still bedeviling Floridians today.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fellow Republican but a political rival, has issued emergency orders waiving many of the unemployment hurdles Scott created in an effort to get money into the hands of Floridians.
DeSantis has called some of those hurdles “perverse,” including one that allows businesses to keep employees on the payroll at drastically reduced rates to prevent those employees from qualifying for unemployment.
On Friday, DeSantis said he believed the system was designed to fail, and the $77 million spent to overhaul it under Scott’s tenure “was not a good investment for the state.”
“This thing was a clunker, there’s no doubt about it," DeSantis said. “It was designed, with all these different things, to basically fail, I think.”
DeSantis, however, also failed to fix the website. Auditors flagged the problems a third time last year.
While many states have struggled to handle record unemployment claims, Florida has been among the slowest states in the nation to pay claims. Also unlike other states, the amount of money in Florida’s unemployment trust fund, which is used to pay claims, has actually increased since March 1, according to the New York Times.
With a net worth last year of $166 million, Scott is one of the nation’s wealthiest senators. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018 and isn’t up for re-election until 2024.
Scott and two other GOP senators erected a roadblock to the CARES Act bill to try to make the unemployment compensation tied to the person’s salary.
“We cannot be paying people more money on unemployment than they get paid in their job,” he said last month.
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