Dear Gov. DeSantis: It’s not our fault your jobless claims system is broken | Editorial
There’s plenty of other people to blame besides jobless Floridians who need help.
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference in Jacksonville on May 15, 2020.
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference in Jacksonville on May 15, 2020. [ Florida Channel ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 18, 2020
Updated May 19, 2020

A virus bounces from an animal market in China to Europe, the United States and on into Florida. Tens of millions of Americans lose their jobs as the global economy tanks. Jobless Floridians desperate to make their rent and car payments seek unemployment benefits - only to have their calls dropped and their online applications crash time after time. Yet who does Gov. Ron DeSantis blame? The very Floridians who through no fault of their own lost their jobs and are desperate for help. That’s a tone deaf, demeaning and demoralizing declaration from a governor who should know better.

DeSantis won the Tin Ear Award by declaring at a news conference that Floridians waiting on unemployment checks have only themselves to blame. He expressed frustration with news reports that quote Floridians who have been unable to receive state or federal benefits. In some cases, the governor said, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity later learned that an application was improperly filed. Some people might not have entered their wages or Social Security number. “Nine times out of 10,” he said, “the application’s incomplete.”

So answer this: Who devised a system that allowed incomplete applications to be filed? Is the online process so full of holes that Floridians could be languishing in limbo because the computer didn’t alert the applicant to correct their application? Is this a problem with paper applications - you know, the kind Florida was forced to turn to when the online system became overwhelmed? Even Pizza Hut won’t take an online order that’s incomplete.

There are plenty of people to blame for this mess: U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, the former governor who pushed to cut benefits and installed the dysfunctional system; the Florida legislators who voted to cut benefits and failed to provide adequate oversight of the executive branch; and the public and private officials who designed and oversaw a dysfunctional system. But jobless Floridians are not among them. The workers who wait tables, staff the hotels and clerk the stores didn’t ask to lose their jobs. It’s bad enough that Florida’s unemployment benefits are among the stingiest in the nation. It’s worse that so many residents can’t even get those benefits because of a system that was designed to fail.

The incompetence is staggering. The state’s website was already inadequate, and it forced many Floridians to spend countless hours making hundreds of attempts to apply. Phone lines to speak with customer service representatives have been clogged, despite the state spending up to $110 million to make more call lines available.

To be sure, DeSantis inherited a "jalopy'' of a jobless claims system, as he called it. He installed new leadership during the meltdown, brought on thousands of workers to process claims, added dozens of computer servers and suspended some rules for the jobless. The state reports more than 1.6 million jobless claims have been processed and more than $2.6 billion has been been paid out since mid-March. So it is understandable the governor, who delivered a lengthy defense of the effort to get claims paid again Tuesday, is frustrated.

But so are thousands of jobless Floridians who never made it through the maze, believe they were wrongly denied or are still awaiting the first check. Blaming the victim is never a winning strategy. It’s particularly disgraceful given the failures of the state’s jobless claims system. Just get the checks out. Floridians have waited long enough.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news