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Murphy, Frankel Lead Bipartisan Group in Urging Governor DeSantis to Make Swift Improvements to State Unemployment Insurance System

Cite constituents’ concerns over the state-operated website and telephone service, lack of personnel to handle surge in claims

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Washington, April 2, 2020 | comments

WASHINGTON—U.S. Representatives Stephanie Murphy and Lois Frankel are leading a bipartisan group of members of the Florida congressional delegation urging Governor Ron DeSantis to utilize federal funding recently provided by Congress to make swift improvements to the state’s unemployment insurance system. In a letter sent to Governor Ron DeSantis today, Members of Congress cited feedback from constituents frustrated with the state-operated website and telephone service, which are the only mechanism through which Floridians can file unemployment claims and receive direct answers to technical questions, as well as concerns over a lack of necessary personnel to handle a surge in unemployment claims. This week alone, 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment insurance (UI) claims, more than twice than the previous week, including more than 200,000 Floridians. The letter comes after Governor DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order, which will likely increase the number of Floridians seeking unemployment relief from the state.

“As you are aware, unemployment is skyrocketing in Florida as the COVID-19 pandemic compels countless businesses to temporarily close their doors or dramatically scale down operations. Many of our recently unemployed constituents are having trouble applying for and receiving the federal unemployment benefits to which they are entitled under the CARES Act. Specifically, our constituents have advised us that the state-operated website is not functioning properly or at all, and that it is difficult to speak with a qualified person over the phone in order to obtain assistance,” wrote members of the Florida congressional delegation. “We urge you to take full advantage of the financial and technical support made available by the federal government.  Enhancing the state website, improving its telephone service, and quickly hiring new employees—including qualified Floridians who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 —are all critically important steps.  We stand ready to assist you in any way necessary.”

In the wake of the economic impact caused by the coronavirus, unemployment insurance is an essential long-term lifeline for millions of laid-off workers during this crisis. The CARES Act provided $260 billion for states to make a massive investment in their unemployment insurance programs, as well as critical reforms to make the program more effective for workers. The bill provides full paycheck replacement in the form of a $600 increase for every American, which equates to 100 percent of wages for the average American without a paycheck during this crisis. The bill also provided federal incentives for states to eliminate waiting weeks—which Florida has done—and ensured an additional 13 weeks of federally-funded UI benefits are immediately made available. Finally, it allowed part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access UI benefits.

12 Members of the Florida congressional delegation signed the letter to Governor DeSantis. In addition to Murphy and Frankel, the letter was signed by Florida Democratic Representatives Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch, Alcee L. Hastings, Al Lawson, Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto and Frederica S. Wilson, and Republican Representative Brian Mast.

The full text of the letter can be found below.

April, 2, 2020

The Honorable Ron DeSantis

Governor of Florida
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Dear Governor DeSantis:

As you are aware, unemployment is skyrocketing in Florida as the COVID-19 pandemic compels countless businesses to temporarily close their doors or dramatically scale down operations.  Many of our recently unemployed constituents are having trouble applying for and receiving the federal unemployment benefits to which they are entitled under the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136).  Specifically, our constituents have advised us that the state-operated website is not functioning properly or at all, and that it is difficult to speak with a qualified person over the phone in order to obtain assistance.

We appreciate the efforts of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to continue to make systems upgrades and increase processing capacity. We respectfully ask you to continue taking all reasonable steps to swiftly address this problem.  Otherwise, workers whose lives have been upended by the COVID-19 crisis will be unable to access the financial support they need and deserve during this difficult period.

We are aware that over 75,000 Floridians applied for unemployment insurance benefits last week, and that tens of thousands more are applying for benefits this week.  We recognize this surge of new applicants is straining your informational systems, human resources, and overall operations.  However, Congress anticipated this challenge and provided substantial funding to state unemployment compensation offices in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127), enacted back on March 18, 2020.  This law provided $1 billion in grants to states to help them handle the influx of unemployment claims, with $500 million distributed immediately and the remaining $500 million reserved for states that experience a 10 percent increase in claims.  The law also made technical assistance available to states to help them implement short-term unemployment programs.  Separately, Section 2106 of the CARES Act waived certain federal requirements so that states can quickly rehire former employees and make temporary hires during this crisis.

We urge you to take full advantage of the financial and technical support made available by the federal government.  Enhancing the state website, improving its telephone service, and quickly hiring new employees—including qualified Floridians who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 —are all critically important steps.  We stand ready to assist you in any way necessary.


Sincerely,

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