Amid coronavirus crisis, Democratic leaders call for improvements to Florida’s unemployment system

Floridians seeking assistance overloading state’s unemployment website, phone lines

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State Democratic leaders are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to take more action as tens of thousands are seeking unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent weeks, Floridians have overloaded the state’s unemployment website and jammed phone lines trying to apply for benefits.

During a conference call on Monday, Democrats called the current system unacceptable.

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“It is extremely frustrating that applicants can’t get through to the system,” State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said. “It’s becoming a challenge for anyone who is eligible to apply and successfully receive benefits.”

Smith commended the initial steps DeSantis took to ease some of the barriers to receive unemployment benefits, but said those measures haven't gone far enough.

"There is an urgency for our state to expand the number of eligible applicants for employment assistance in our state," Smith said.

The group said the state needs to expand the number of weeks Floridians can receive unemployment and increase the cap past the threshold of $275 per week.

"To think that (Floridians) can get by with $275 right now is not something I can even defend," State Rep. Anna Eskamani said.

With the state's website bogged down by traffic, the group said Florida could miss out on billions of dollars in federal aid.

“Here we are waiting desperately for congressional relief because our state can’t handle it,” Eskamani said.

On Friday, DeSantis said work is being done to improve wait times, but said people will also need to be patient.

"It's something that we're working on, but it's going to require a whole new surge of things that I think even the most prudent person would not have anticipated," DeSantis said.

During a news conference on Monday, DeSantis did not comment on the current state of accessing unemployment benefits.

At last check, there were nearly 5,500 Florida-related cases of COVID-19 and 63 deaths reported statewide, according to the Florida Department of Health.

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