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Gov. DeSantis Calls For Investigation Into Florida’s ‘Broken’ Unemployment System

May 2, 2020
Originally published on May 1, 2020 4:52 pm

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is calling for an investigation into the state’s unemployment system, which he described as “broken.”

The state’s reemployment assistance application system, known as CONNECT, was first launched in 2013 with a $77 million price tag by then governor and now Sen. Rick Scott’s administration. That was two years after the Republican-dominated state Legislature made some big changes to the state’s unemployment system, like capping weekly payments at $275. 

An audit from 2015 identified more than 100 problems with the system. Gov. DeSantis was warned about these issues last year but the state hasn’t seriously tried to fix them, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

Related: Florida’s CONNECT Unemployment System Still Struggles, 7 Years After Launch

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Florida has seen a bigger increase in unemployment than almost any other state in the nation, according to a new study from WalletHub, with claims in April rising a staggering 9,265% when compared to January.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, as of Thursday, 960,410 unique unemployment claims have been submitted since March 15. Of those, 693,767 have been processed and $598,807,109 has been paid out to 426,623 claimants.

On Thursday night alone about 69,000 unemployment payments were made, DeSantis said. To put that in perspective, the state sent unemployment checks to about 326,000 claimants during all of 2019, according to the governor.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, when CONNECT was first getting flooded with claims, the system was heavily criticized for regularly crashing.

“So what happened was the system had a lot of problems and it couldn't hold up. It got overwhelmed. I had to bring in engineers to effectively rebuild it,” DeSantis said during a press conference in Jacksonville on Friday.

Related: DeSantis Orders Additional Servers, Employees In Rush To Fortify Beleaguered Unemployment System

The system was shut down over the past weekend while the state processed applications.

“We've worked extremely hard on fixing a very broken system that you had with unemployment,” DeSantis explained. “You go back four weeks, this system was in tatters. People couldn't even get on. I mean, there's going to be a whole investigation that's going to need to be done about how the state of Florida could have paid $77 million for this thing.”

DeSantis said unemployment has been his No. 1 non-health-related priority recently, and with help from 2,000 or so recently mobilized state employees, he thinks the situation has drastically improved.

“Now we're in a situation where we have hundreds of thousands of claims going out. We have 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 payments a day,” he said. “We need to do more, but we're much better than we were a month ago.”

DeSantis said the updated system processed nearly 500,000 unique payments last weekend.

“We've got a lot of hard working people here. They absolutely want to work,” he said. “It's not going to happen overnight, but we're going to get people back.”

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

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