TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis said some Floridians waiting on unemployment checks have themselves to blame for not filling out their applications properly.
During an exchange with a reporter during a Friday news conference in Jacksonville, DeSantis expressed frustration with news stories that quote Floridians who have been unable to receive either state or federal benefits.
The governor said that for people who applied in March or early April, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity later learns that their applications weren’t filled out properly. DeSantis said some people haven’t entered their Social Security number or their wages.
The Department of Economic Opportunity "goes through this, and nine times out of 10, the application’s incomplete,” DeSantis said. “And I think if you have applied in that time period, and your application’s complete, and you qualify, I think 99.99 percent of those folks have been paid.”
The statement was roundly criticized on Twitter by Democratic lawmakers and out-of-work Floridians who have been stymied by Florida’s byzantine and broken unemployment system.
Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said that for people who applied in March, “many of the individuals who have not been paid have incomplete applications.” She encouraged them to log in to the state’s system and check their inbox to ensure their application is complete.
Although the state has made strides toward paying claims in the last two weeks, most applicants have not been paid.
Many applicants have been waiting up to two months for unemployment benefits. Some have told reporters and lawmakers that the process has left them desperate. A few say they have considered drastic measures such as suicide. Florida has been the slowest state in the nation to process claims through the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state’s website has been crippled by the workload and is routinely down for maintenance, leaving many Floridians to have to make hundreds of attempts to apply. Phone lines to speak with a representative have been clogged, despite the state spending up to $110 million on call service contracts.
Glenn Barca, a professional chauffeur from Wesley Chapel, called the governor’s comments Friday “laughable" and disputed that people have been paid.
“It depends on your definition of ‘paid,’" Barca said.
Barca tried to apply on March 22, but wasn’t able to complete his application until March 25. He was one of more than 260,000 Floridians who had to reapply in April after the state was unable to process their applications.
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Just hours before DeSantis’ comments, Barca received his first payment — $600. But in reality, he should have been paid every week since March 29, for a total of $4,875, he said. Under federal law, he’s owed that money.
“If I owed the state of Florida $20,000, and I sent them a $20 bill, would they say I’ve paid?” Barca said.
There is no way in the state system for him to claim those earlier weeks, he said. Other Floridians the Times/Herald has spoken to said that they also have not been able to claim their past weeks.
Vause, the department spokeswoman, said there should be a way in the system for Barca to claim past weeks, although it’s a recurring problem and the state is aware of it.
“We’ve not been shy about saying, and the governor has said, we’re going to make people whole,” Vause said.
Barca created a petition in April demanding that Florida immediately start paying the $600-per-week federal benefits meant to supplement state unemployment benefits. It has more than 12,000 signatures so far.
To speed up the claims process, DeSantis has waived a number of requirements, including listing job searches each week.
But in yet another example of how poorly the state’s website has been performing, Barca shared an image showing that his claim has been flagged for “failure to meet work search requirements.” He said he’s not going to bother to call the state’s hotline to figure out what it means.
“You couldn’t even script something this crazy,” he said. “You could not do it. The most creative mind couldn’t even conceive of what’s going on here. That’s how sick it is.”
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