Florida unemployment: Tampa senator calls for department head to resign over website fiasco

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Florida house minority leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, speaks about the Democrats objectives for session during a pre-legislative news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A state senator from Tampa is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to take action in response to the fiasco surrounding the state’s unemployment system.

The unemployment system has struggled in the past weeks to keep up with a skyrocketing number of claims as Floridians grapple with job loss due to the coronavirus crisis. 8 On Your Side is receiving dozens of calls, emails and messages every day from people having trouble filing claims with the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) sent a letter to Gov. DeSantis on Friday, calling on him to ask Ken Lawson to resign from his position as the Executive Director of the department.

In her letter, Cruz 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.”

The senator added the only response she’s received from the DEO is to “be patient.”

“I appreciate the Department of Economic Opportunity’s apologies for these issues. But without a plan in place that I can share with the more than 500,000 hard-working Floridians I represent, I cannot in good conscience stand by the response provided by the department to this economic crisis,” she said. “It is with great disappointment and frustration that I request you ask Executive Director Ken Lawson to resign from his duties.”

Gov. DeSantis has not yet responded to the letter sent by Cruz. He did, however, address the unemployment issue on Thursday, signing an executive order to dedicate more resources to the DEO.

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