DeSantis now blames user error for Florida unemployment woes

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This was a bad moment for the governor. People are hurting. They’re scared. They’re broke. But DeSantis gets peevish and sounds like he’s totally over answering questions about unemployment benefits.

As if getting laid off isn’t scary enough, as if getting put through the unemployment wringer isn’t humiliating and frustrating enough, Gov. Ron DeSantis has decided to start blaming the jobless for the state’s failure to pay benefits.

In other words, the governor thinks the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of people who still haven’t received unemployment benefits to pay for rent and food have only themselves to blame. User error.

Not a state unemployment system that was designed to fail and frustrate workers who find themselves out of a job through no fault of their own. A system that, in the year 2020, is asking people to fax information.

The blame game

We get the governor’s frustration. DeSantis is taking a lot of heat for an albatross he inherited from former Gov. Rick Scott. And DeSantis had been in office barely a year when the economy collapsed, producing an unprecedented number of claims (not that we think fixing the system would have ever been a priority for the governor without the prompting of a pandemic).

But we’ve reached a new level of tone-deafness when responsibility is shifted from the state to the citizens who desperately need benefits they’re entitled to.

How many times have we heard that government should be run like a business? Even if we take DeSantis at his word, that applicants who haven’t gotten paid are making mistakes, then why isn’t the government doing everything in its power to help customers rectify those mistakes rather than pointing an accusing finger at them?

The governor’s newly aggressive posture first emerged during a press conference when, asked by a reporter about out-of-work Floridians not getting benefits even though they first applied in March, the governor snapped, “Who’s been waiting?”

The reporter replied that he already had sent the names to the Department of Economic Opportunity, which runs the unemployment system.

That prompted DeSantis to say: “I can tell you that DEO goes through this, and nine times out of 10 the application’s incomplete. And I think if you have complied in that time period, and your application’s complete, and you qualify, I think 99.99% of those folks have been paid.”

Unpaid and unemployed

Meet some people who haven’t been paid, governor, and who don’t appear to have botched the applications they first filed in March.

Angelique Sambrook was an events planner for The Porch restaurant in Winter Park, Fla. She first applied for unemployment on March 22 and was twice deemed ineligible even though she had worked there more than five years.

She has spent hours on the phone, hours on the state website, and has no explanation yet for why the state turned her down.

Or Astrid Lowe, a Central Florida YMCA employee who filed her claim on March 20, the day after she was furloughed. Let’s hear her story in her own words:

“As of today, it still states pending, and I have not received any benefits. I have called hundreds and hundreds of times without anyone picking up the phone! I have emailed and am only getting an ERROR messages back,” said Lowe.

“On May 1, I finally got hold of someone at the DEO and he suggested via a supervisor to reapply on their new website specifically for COVID-19 people. He claimed it was easier and faster. That has now been 2.5 weeks and all it says is ‘submitted.’ I am beside myself with frustration. My employer, who I reached out to on Friday, hasn’t even received my claim and it now has been 8 weeks. The system is so messed up it is absolutely ridiculous.”

Peevish excuses

Thousands more just like them are waiting. According to the state’s own dashboard, 1.37 million people have applied for unemployment, and the state has paid nearly 780,000 of those, a little more than half.

The governor probably is right that many of those who haven’t been paid were deemed ineligible to receive unemployment for one reason or another. What’s mystifying is how DeSantis, knowing better than anyone how lousy and glitchy the state’s system is, can be so confident those people truly are not eligible.

This was a bad moment for the governor. People are hurting. They’re scared. They’re broke. But DeSantis gets peevish and sounds like he’s totally over answering questions about unemployment benefits.

So over it that, after declaring his belief that user error is behind so many of the problems on Friday, he pleaded with reporters to change the subject, asking, “Does anyone have any questions about, kind of, Florida’s reopening?”

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