TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – Governor Ron DeSantis calls fixing the website for people to apply for unemployment is his number one priority right now and is throwing people, money, along with old and new technology at the problem.
Since the COVID-19 crisis hit, 396,000 people have filed for unemployment compare that to just under 308,000 claims filed in all of 2019.
The agency also took over two million calls in the last thee weeks.
“I think this requires all hands on deck,” said DeSantis.
Up to 200 state employees from other agencies are being re-assigned to help answer phones and process claims.
“We are working right now to identify who those people are and we are going to begin training them next week across the state. In addition, he has provide us the ability to take paper applications, so we are going to be posting that later today, so individuals can print the application, fill it out, and mail it back to us,” said Department of Economic Opportunity Communications Director Tiffany Vause.
A new mobile app to help people file for unemployment could be available as early as this weekend or as late as Tuesday.
And the $77 million computerized claim system that has had problems since it was built in 2013 is getting a makeover.
“I think that will take about two weeks for us to get the folks on staff and get them going, but we are working on some interim solutions,” said Vause.
The Governor’s message: Spare no cost.
“I wish I could say this is something that will last just a couple weeks, but I think this is not something that you can just turn on and off an economy like this,” said DeSantis.
The news comes as a state senator from Tampa called on DeSantis to take action in response to the ongoing issues.
In her letter, Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) tells the governor Floridians are worried about both their health and their income as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. She says after the Great Recession, Florida’s unemployment system was “made unworkable.”
“As a state senator, I have an obligation to answer to my constituents with intention and integrity,” she said. “I am unfortunately unable to do so because of a lack of preparedness within the governor’s office, the office of the Department of Economic Opportunity, and further, a complete breakdown in communication from the leaders of our state to the Florida Legislature.”
Cruz says she requested a timeline from the DEO on when the reemployment benefits website will be fixed but has not received any information.
“I understand the reemployment assistance benefit website was designed to fail, and that was not an action taken by your administration,” she said. “But we need a plan and that information must be communicated to members of the legislature so we may effectively serve our constituents.”
In Florida, jobless claims have risen by nearly 5,000% in the first week of the year from 4,618 claims to 227,000 claims during the week of March 23, 2020. Wallethub says this is the second-highest increase in the U.S.
And as the claims mount, the Governor has also suspended all evictions and foreclosures for the next 45 days.
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