TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing backlash among other politicians after claiming Friday that “99.99 percent” of qualified Floridians who applied for unemployment in March have been paid.
The comment came during a news conference where the governor announced the next steps of reopening the state. When DeSantis moved on to answer questions from reporters, he was immediately asked about the unemployment system.
“We paid out close to $2 billion in unemployment,” he said. “We had a system that was a disaster. It was designed to have 1,000 people at a time and it could surge to 5,000 people. That’s what it was designed for.”
Feeling failed by the unemployment system? 8 On Your Side is putting together a list of names of people waiting for their benefits to send to Gov. DeSantis and the DEO.
If you have been waiting for 30 days or more on unemployment benefits, please fill out this Google form. 8 On Your Side’s Victoria Price will be delivering it to the governor.
The governor said there were 100,000 people trying to access the system when they “stopped the economy” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s just like if you had a jalopy and they put you in the Daytona 500,” he said. “How do you do it?”
DeSantis explained the changes that were made to the unemployment system and admitted late March and early April were very difficult for those trying to file.
“Now what you’ve seen, really over the last three weeks you’ve probably seen a billion and a half dollars paid out,” he said. “So people are getting paid. And I know it wasn’t an easy situation because there was a lot of stress but I think that given the hand that we were dealt, we made the decisions necessary to get money going.”
David Jones, a reporter for WFLA’s NBC affiliate First Coast News in Jacksonville, then asked Gov. DeSantis why so many Floridians who applied in March are still waiting for benefits.
“Who’s been waiting?” Gov. DeSantis asked.
Jones replied that he’s been receiving emails every day from frustrated Floridians and forwarding them to the Department of Economic Opportunity. 8 On Your Side has also been flooded with calls, emails and messages into our newsroom about the unemployment system.
“Can you give me the names? What has (DEO) said?” the governor said. “Do you have (the names) with you? Can you give them to me? OK, do it.”
DeSantis claimed that most of the applications that DEO has looked into have been incomplete, explaining that there are certain requirements you must submit like a social security number and wages.
“I can tell you, DEO goes through this and nine times out of 10, the application is incomplete,” he said. “I think if you have applied in that time period and your application is complete and you’ve qualified, I think 99.99 percent of those folks have been paid.”
The governor then tried to move on, asking if anyone had any questions about Florida reopening.
His comments, however, quickly sparked backlash online from 8 On Your Side viewers as well as Florida Democrats.
“Over the last week, my office has sent DEO over 30 names and claimant id’s of Floridians who have pending since March,” Florida Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) tweeted. “Would they like the list of those who were pending in March, then ‘ineligible’ and are now pending again? Asking for hundreds of thousands of Floridians.”
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) represents parts of the Tampa Bay area in the U.S. House. She sent us this statement in response:
“On behalf of my Tampa Bay neighbors who have lost their jobs and struggled with the state’s unemployment website, the governor’s remarks are callous and hurtful. He’s out of touch with the people and the real pain inflicted by the failed state system.”
Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who represents South Florida in Washington, also blasted the governor for his comments.
“This is a blatant lie. I have constituents calling my office every day who still haven’t gotten help from your defective unemployment,” she said. “FIX THIS. People are dying. They can’t get help from YOUR office.”
Florida Rep. Carlos G. Smith (D-Winter Park) tweeted, urging Floridians who filed in March and have not been paid to email the governor their information.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat in Florida’s cabinet, asked whether the governor thinks “the thousands of Floridians waiting for help since March are making it up?”
8 On Your Side has reached out to other members of Congress who represent Florida as well and are waiting to hear back from them.
In the meantime, 8 On Your Side is putting together a list of names of the people who have been waiting for help from the unemployment system. If you have been waiting for 30 days or more and want your name to be sent to the governor, please fill out this Google form so 8 On Your Side’s Victoria Price can deliver it to him.
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