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Independent Study Recommends Florida Replace Unemployment System

Patch logo Patch 2/27/2021 D'Ann Lawrence White
text, letter: Nearly a year after the coronavirus pandemic was declared, sending thousands of Floridians to the unemployment line, the state announced a plan Friday to fix its failed unemployment assistance system. © Shutterstock Nearly a year after the coronavirus pandemic was declared, sending thousands of Floridians to the unemployment line, the state announced a plan Friday to fix its failed unemployment assistance system.

FLORIDA — Nearly a year after the coronavirus pandemic was declared, sending thousands of Floridians to the unemployment line, the state announced a plan Friday to fix its failed unemployment assistance system.

In the wake of the pandemic, nonessential businesses throughout the state were forced to close their doors, resulting in massive layoffs and record unemployment rates.

By the end of March, nearly 350,000 Floridians had attempted to grab on to the only lifeboat that would save them from drowning in debt: the state's unemployment system operated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

However, the DEO's unemployment website, Connect, proved woefully inadequate to meet the overwhelming demand. Jobless residents complained that the system kicked them off halfway through the claims process, refused to accept their PIN numbers and passwords allowing them access to the system or outright rejected their claims even though they qualified to receive benefits.

As Florida legislators called for an investigation into why the $77 million unemployment system implemented by former Gov. Rick Scott had crashed, Gov. Ron DeSantis fired DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson, suspended the weekly job-seeking requirements and pulled state employees from other agencies into the unemployment call center to answer the flood of complaints.

This week the DEO, now under former House majority leader Dane Eagle, published an independent study of Florida's unemployment system that recommends the state scrap the current system and replace it with a new, integrated cloud-based system. The study also recommends that the state create the Office of Economic Accountability and Transparency and the Reemployment Assistance Modernization Strategic Planning Office to continually update the unemployment system.

Senate President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) and Rep. Chip LaMarca (R- Lighthouse Point) will sponsor the legislation to adopt the study's recommendations.

“This partnership with the Department of Economic Opportunity is vital in ensuring accountability with the state’s Reemployment Assistance program,” said Bean. “Floridians are frustrated with the current system, and I am proud to be taking the steps necessary to improve its management and efficiency by providing the department with these additional resources.”

"The last year has been incredibly difficult for families across our state. Losing loved ones and being out of work has put a tremendous burden on all of our communities," LaMarca said. "I’m proud to sponsor legislation that will help families get the reemployment benefits they need more efficiently. I vowed to take on this issue and revise the way Florida’s system operates and I look forward to making this a reality with Gov. Ron DeSantis and his team at DEO."

Eagle said the creation of the Office of Economic Accountability and Transparency will help ensure that the state never again spends millions in federal and state taxpayer dollars on systems that simply don't work.

“Gov. DeSantis has tasked me with ensuring the department provides accountability and transparency with expenditures and policies involving the use of federal and state taxpayer dollars,” Eagle said. “Creating the Office of Economic to oversee the department’s key objectives, while implementing a modernized reemployment assistance system, will help solve the complex economic challenges facing the state and Floridians.”

A copy of the report can be found here.

As of Friday, 1,898,223 Floridians have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began with 79,021 people hospitalized and 31,162 deaths, according to Florida Department of Health daily coronavirus data.

During the past week, the number of cases has leveled out at less than half of those who tested positive at the state's most recent peak on Dec. 29 with 14,690 tested positive for a down-trending positivity rate of 5.18 percent, down from 5.74 percent a week ago.

  • Feb. 25 - 5,941 positive cases
  • Feb. 24 - 6,557 positive cases
  • Feb. 23 - 7,045 positive cases
  • Feb. 22 - 5,559 positive cases
  • Feb. 21 - 4,092 positive cases

In addition, the number of deaths has been steadily declining throughout January and February.

The state reported two deaths Friday, 12 deaths Thursday, 20 on Wednesday, 24 on Tuesday and 22 on Monday, compared to 188 deaths on Dec. 22.

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