After Florida’s botched response to the flood of unemployment claims due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he has appointed the head of another agency, outside the state department that handles unemployment, to oversee the repair of the website and call centers.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, led by Director Ken Lawson, wasn’t ready for the hundreds of thousands of jobless Floridians unable to work due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
When layoffs statewide began, the DEO website was unable to handle applications and millions of calls went unanswered for help filing, department spending records show. Then two weeks ago under the federal CARES Act, Floridians who didn’t previously qualify for state benefits, including the self-employed and contractors, also became eligible to file, increasing that workload.
In the past three weeks, the department has signed contracts totaling more than $119 million to add contracted call takers, build a new mobile-friendly website and add 100 servers.
On Wednesday, during a news conference, DeSantis credited Department of Management Services Secretary John Satter as the person behind the new functioning website, not Lawson. The governor revealed he appointed Satter to oversee the COVID-19 unemployment response.
“I was disappointed in the initial response in terms to the website,” DeSantis said. “I put the message out that we have to do better.”
Satter was appointed by DeSantis in 2019 to lead DMS, which supports other agencies with workforce and business-related topics.
In the past three weeks, more than 472,000 unemployment claims were filed by Floridians, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number will double in the next jobs report. DeSantis said Wednesday that through the new website, more than 500,000 people applied for benefits.
“The unemployment claims process is taking too long: Floridians are struggling and need to receive their money. @GovRonDeSantis is committed to make this work and asks @JonathanSatter to take over the #COVID19 response @FLDEO. The mission is getting people what they need quickly,” Helen Aguirre Ferré, the governor’s communication director, tweeted Wednesday.
DeSantis said Lawson will continue to oversee the non-coronavirus related claims.
However, an application is not the end of the process.
“What people want more than anything is to see the money turned around,” DeSantis said. “Under normal circumstances, it takes about three weeks until an unemployment check is sent out and it’s been my judgement is that’s too long.”
The DEO has not disclosed when eligible claimants should expect to receive their first weekly payment. News 6 has heard from many applicants who have been waiting much longer.
The governor said he didn’t know how many claims have been paid Wednesday.