Floridians seeking assistance through the state’s unemployment website repeatedly saw crashes and were denied access over the past two weeks, precisely when it was needed most. The website was finally revamped by the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity on Wednesday.
The failing site, which cost roughly $78 million to create, was a remnant of former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, whose goal was to intentionally reduce the number of people on unemployment benefits, even when Floridians were in need of that assistance.
A staffer for current Gov. Ron DeSantis told Politico on April 3 that the Scott administration was “making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”
The DeSantis administration has had to reckon with that history this month as the Florida unemployment rate has skyrocketed. More than 470,000 Floridians have filed for unemployment since the beginning of March, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
To truly help working Floridians, the DeSantis administration needs to go beyond the goals of his predecessor. DeSantis should not just fix the website but should also expand benefits for those who rely on unemployment.
Unemployment benefits in Florida provide fewer funds for their citizens than most other states, with an average of $251 per week (or about $1,000 per month) given to eligible adults.
Considering that the United Way of Florida estimated that in 2018 that a single adult needs $1,726 monthly for necessities like housing, food and health care, these benefits are clearly not adequate. We only pay higher rates than four other states — Mississippi, Arizona, Louisiana and Alabama.
All over Florida people’s lives are being uprooted and they don’t know what their future holds. The governor should expand benefits as his predecessor Charlie Crist did during the subprime mortgage crisis. In 2009, Crist signed a bill to expand unemployment to $300 per week (which estimates to $367 after accounting for inflation), only to be cut by the Scott administration in 2011.
Among the recent stimulus bills passed by Congress, Florida was given $8.3 billion. A portion of this money would be a welcome investment in our lagging unemployment program.
Considering the gravity of this pandemic, DeSantis should consider these expansions and change the trend of systematically denying Floridians the resources they need.
Jared Sellick is a senior studying political science.