Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online news service

Florida News

Florida's Unemployment Policy Questions Need to be Addressed: Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez

Observer Graphic | Freeze frame: Florida Channel

TALLAHASSEE, FL – The collapse of Florida’s unemployment system under the crush of 650,000 claims in less than month is a daily narrative in the state’s efforts to blunt the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has allocated at least $100 million to upgrade the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) website, purchased 100 servers to boost capacity, reassigned up to 2,000 state workers to help and tapped Department of Management Services Secretary Jon Satter to manage the system.

With technical issues being remedied, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, has asked Satter in a letter to address policy questions and move on recommendations previously forwarded to DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson and DeSantis.

Among them: creating a separate application process for Floridians who do not qualify for unemployment insurance under the state’s program, but do under the $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package.

“Can those who quality for [federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] be provided a separate application process, or be integrated into a single application process, that does not require them to first apply for traditional [state assistance]? How soon will that application be available?” Rodriquez asked.

Under the federal CARES Act, unemployment applicants are eligible to receive up to $600 a week in federal benefits while the state assistance tops out at $275 a week.

Under the CARES Act, gig workers, the self-employed, independent contractors and those who “have limited work history and others not usually eligible for regular state unemployment assistance” are eligible for federal unemployment benefits, Rodriguez said, but they must submit their application through the state.

“Director Lawson originally indicated to me that applicants qualifying for PUA would be required to first apply for traditional [state] benefits, be denied, and then apply for PUA,” he wrote.

DeSantis on Tuesday expressed bewilderment about the federal process,

“Why they did it through the state unemployment system, I’ll never understand,” he said.

Rodriguez maintains the state failed to make accommodations to make the process easier for those seeking to access the federal program.

“This seems an unreasonable use of time and resources for individuals who know they are not eligible for traditional [state] benefits and are only interested in applying for the PUA,” he said. “Is there a better way?”

Satter said Thursday that DEO will create a separate process for PUA applicants by next week.

Rodriguez also challenged DeSantis’ claim it would require legislative action to extend state unemployment payments beyond 12 weeks or raise the $275 weekly cap, among the nation’s lowest.

Lawson and DeSantis said “there was no executive authority to increase benefit weeks and amounts as other states have done,” he said, but “emergency management powers in state statute 252.36 permit suspension of regulatory statutes, appearing to encompass action affecting Chapter 443,” which deals with unemployment insurance.

Rodriguez said the governor has issued at least two executive orders waiving Chapter 443 provisions.

“It seems inconsistent that some statutory requirements of Chapter 443 can be waived” while others can’t, he said.

Rodriguez reiterated unanswered questions about retroactivity, noting Lawson and DeSantis had agreed to make applicants’ eligible for unemployment from the date they lost their jobs and to eliminate bi-weekly reporting requirements, but no such waiver had been issued.

DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-104 on Thursday approving retroactivity and waiving the job-search requirement.

“I’ve waived pretty much everything I could,” DeSantis said, noting he didn’t think an executive order was necessary after he asked DEO to waive the requirements.

“We don’t want people to have to go back every two weeks to confirm their unemployment status,” creating unnecessary traffic on the system, he said.

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.