BY JIM TURNER
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Just over 6 percent of people who have filed jobless claims since mid-March had received checks as of April 19, inching up from roughly 4 percent when Gov. Ron DeSantis revamped management of the overwhelmed unemployment-compensation system last week.
A new “dashboard” from the Department of Economic Opportunity was unveiled Monday to provide updates on claims that have flooded the state’s CONNECT unemployment system as businesses statewide have closed or dramatically scaled back because of the novel coronavirus.
The report from the department listed 40,193 people as of April 19 receiving weekly checks of up to $275 from among 652,191 people who had made claims since March 15.
Duplicates and triplicates
On April 16, a day after DeSantis removed Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson from oversight of the unemployment system, the governor said 33,623 people who had applied for benefits during the slowdown had drawn state checks. DeSantis said at the time that more than 800,000 people had applied in the prior month.
The department in a news release said that as of April 19, 1.5 million claims had been submitted, with a note that people might have submitted more than one application.
“This number includes multiple duplicates and triplicates due to many individuals filing directly in CONNECT, online and by paper,” the department said. “We are going through the process of identifying duplicates and triplicates; and currently have 652,191 confirmed unique claims of the total claims submitted.”
Second online site
Because of problems with the CONNECT system, the state has opened a second online site for applications and started to accept paper applications.
As April got underway, DeSantis set a goal of 80,000 applications being processed a week to reduce a growing backlog.
While in Fort Lauderdale on April 17, DeSantis said fixing the system is his “number one economic priority.”
“The process has gotten better,” DeSantis said. “There’s still more work to do. But we’re doing all kinds of technological upgrades with an eye towards the speed of doing this.”
DeSantis issued an executive order Thursday to lift a requirement that people reapply every two weeks when seeking state benefits, which last 12 weeks. DeSantis had earlier put a temporary stay on the requirement that people seeking benefits prove they had weekly applied for five jobs.
The Department of Economic Opportunity also said Monday another 23,801 checks had gone out to people who had qualified for money under a new federal stimulus law. The federal payments go up to $600 a week.
Cost of CONNECT
Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter replaced Lawson in charge of the unemployment system. CONNECT cost $77 million to get online in 2013.
“We understand the challenges to the CONNECT system have only added to the stress on Florida families, and my number one goal is to ensure Floridians in need of reemployment assistance get paid, quickly,” Satter said in Monday’s news release.
More than $100 million has been spent to speed up handling of the claims.
In a report released on April 17, the state’s unemployment rate jumped from 2.8 percent in February to 4.3 percent in March. But the latest number reflected only the first half of March, just as many businesses were starting to shut down to slow the spread of the virus.
NEED TO APPLY?
For information about applying for Florida reemployment assistance benefits, visit floridajobs.org.