Coronavirus Florida: DeSantis launches investigation of glitch-ridden unemployment system
On the day that he moved Florida into a phased-in reopening of its battered economy, Gov. Ron DeSantis defended Monday the state’s flawed efforts to get unemployment checks into the hands of the more than 1 million Floridians seeking them.
The governor has been under fierce, months-long criticism on social media over the Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT system, the glitch-ridden online site used to file applications for the state’s maximum $275 weekly jobless benefit and for eligibility to collect another $600-a-week payment from the federal government.
DeSantis endorsed a demand aired earlier Monday by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s lone, statewide elected Democrat, that the state inspector general investigate the $78 million CONNECT contract, approved under the governor’s predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott.
The contract went to Deloitte Consulting, one of the nation’s largest management advising firms. It was represented at the time by lobbyist Brian Ballard, who chaired DeSantis’s inaugural committee last year.
“It is a complicated thing, unemployment,” DeSantis said of a website that fields applications, and reviews and verifies benefits. “But the way it was done was not worth the amount of money that was put in. I have not found a single person who has said it’s worth it.”
体育在线365Of the just over 1 million applicants, almost three-quarters had been processed, but almost 300,000, about 40% of those seeking aid, have been ruled ineligible.
体育在线365The state’s Department of Management Services chief, Jon Satter, who has been tasked as the state’s unemployment czar, said many of those declared ineligible may have made a mistake on their application, and should be contacted by the state to correct problems.
Senate Democrats dismissed DeSantis’ defense.
体育在线365“We need answers, not just reports on what happened in the past,” said Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, adding, “let’s get real action about when people are going to get paid.”
体育在线365Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said of DeSantis’ response, “We were expecting more…in terms of action.”
体育在线365DeSantis spent much of a Monday evening news conference trying to make the case that getting benefits to people is what he has called his “number one economic priority.” He’s positioned more than 2,000 state workers to help field DEO phone calls and spent as much as $109 million on new contracts with three call centers.
Computer processing speed and capacity has been significantly beefed up on the CONNECT site. DeSantis said he can understand what he called a “huge, huge source of angst with the public.”
“If they see that money showing up, that’s going to be important, not only economically, but for peace of mind,” DeSantis said. “They’re wondering when is this going to happen?”
Many Floridians peeked out Monday from a month-long statewide shutdown, as restaurants and retail stores crept back to life on a limited scale under a phased-in reopening set in motion by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Reopening day saw the state Health Department report another 819 cases of the coronavirus, bringing Florida’s total to 36,897 to date. Another 20 fatalities from the illness brought the state’s death toll to 1,399.
Even as the biggest South Florida counties remained under a lockdown, elsewhere around the state industry leaders said there was caution among customers and business owners.
体育在线365“Every store owner realizes they have to create an environment where consumers will have confidence to shop,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.
Shalley said it was difficult to gauge just how many stores across Florida opened their doors Monday.
“My sense is that the majority of our members are opening at one level or another,” he said. “They’ve been preparing for this for awhile. We’ve had an awful lot of people out of work and it’s put an enormous strain on families. So to the extent that they can do so safely, we are seeing people open up for business.”
体育在线365DeSantis has touted his focus on testing as a means to identify and isolate those carrying the virus. By Monday, 445,995 Floridians had been tested, with an 8.3% positive rate that the governor said has been declining in recent days to around 5-6%.
Still, the 14,374 tests reported Saturday are less than half the rate epidemiologists say should be administered to contain the virus. With a goal of testing 150 people daily for every 100,000 residents – that means about 31,800 Floridians should be getting tested each day.
体育在线365Monday’s reopening allows restaurants and what had been considered non-essential stores to again welcome customers, although they are limited to serving 25% capacity. Restaurants also can serve customers outside, but social distancing limits are expected to be enforced among diners, and staffers are urged to wear masks for personal protection and also to safeguard customers.
Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to almost 60% of the coronavirus cases and a similar share of the state’s fatalities remain under the stay-at-home order officials enacted days before DeSantis issued his own statewide directive April 1.
体育在线365Elsewhere in Florida, restaurants and what had been considered non-essential retail stores and businesses were allowed to reopen Monday, but keeping capacity to 25%. Social distancing was expected to continue and masks were encouraged, but not mandated by the governor.
About 80 state parks – although none in the three South Florida counties – also opened Monday, under a DeSantis order. The governor, though, is still keeping closed movie theaters, bars, gyms, movie theaters, hair dressers and personal care studios.
Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said many restaurants may be moving slowly.
体育在线365“A lot of our members, surprisingly, are waiting to open toward the end of the week,” Dover said. “We don’t have any solid statistics yet. I think we’re going to see it will take a while for people to feel comfortable about coming back out, getting in public. Hopefully, that will happen sooner than later.”
She said that while restaurants welcomed the chance to reopen, the 25% capacity limit meant that many were balancing the cost of opening against what revenue they could expect to take in.
体育在线365DeSantis has indicated that the Phase One standards are likely to stay in place for an unknown number of weeks.
“That’s a business decision you have to make. Do you want to wait until you reach a 50% or 75% threshold…a lot might just sit back and wait. Because you have to bring the staff back on, buy supplies, and you don’t know how much you’re going to sell,” she added.
体育在线365Dover said that more restaurants could open, depending on how the public responds to Phase One.
“Let’s face it, people want to get back to normal; they want to get out of quarantine,” Dover said.
体育在线365DeSantis announced the reopening last week, a day after he met with President Donald Trump at the White House He urged Floridians “to focus on facts, not fear,” in the phased-in restart to an economy badly battered by the shutdowns stemming from the coronavirus.
Still, DeSantis is recommending that Florida’s most vulnerable population, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, remain sheltered in place. Visitors to nursing homes remain prohibited in Phase One.
体育在线365People who do go out should avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people in places that don’t provide appropriate physical distancing, under the Phase One approach.