More F*ckery In Florida’s Unemployment System If You Can Even Believe That
Florida's unemployment system is a disaster, but unlike Daytona Beach, that's by design. Sen. Rick Scott, when he was governor, spent $77 million on an unemployment website constructed from leftover Netscape code. It was intended — no, really, it's what they entirely meant to do — to confound users who'd eventually quit trying to live on the dole and immediately go find a job, win the lottery, or starve. It was a brilliant system that reaped benefits for everyone who moves to Florida to avoid taxes or because their car broke down.
Jobless claims in Florida have stabilized! Yay! At triple the level they were prior to the COVID-19 crisis! And we don't believe that includes the people who so far still can't get through. Millions of Floridians are suffering needlessly. Brian Entin, an investigative reporter for 7 News in Miami, interviewed an employee from the Department of Economic Opportunity who described an overwhelmed unemployment system that's not getting any better. The state employee remained anonymous because he believed “if the state found out who I was, I would be submitting an application into the unemployment system." And, we should clarify, that system doesn't work worth a damn.
The state employe said that they've seen messages from people who are practically begging for help. They're down to their last dollar. (One applicant answered the question “Are you a homeless veteran?" with a depressing “No ... but close.") The biggest problem is that the system is a perpetual crash machine. You can't enter information into a system that's not even functional, so people are waiting for the chance to wait forever before filing a claim. And they have to do this over the sound of their children's rumbling stomachs.
The website was so bad, the state had resorted to accepting paper applications — 300,000 so far. It's a ridiculously circuitous process where the paper applications received by mail are scanned and then DEO employees digitally input the information into the system. We can appreciate the craftsmanship, but processing unemployment during an economic crisis needs to be a volume business.
STATE EMPLOYEE: Every day, I'm seeing applications that are a month old, three weeks old.
According to a 2016 study, Floridians are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck. That includes half of all Floridians with fancy book-learning college degrees. Few of the residents who've lost their jobs were likely to have a month of expenses saved up in case the racist, hydroxychloroquine-addled president bungled the response to a global pandemic.
A DEO supervisor recently confirmed that “there is a backlog" in processing and paying claims from Spanish and Creole speakers. That's a significant percentage of the Florida's population, but this is America first, not people first.
STATE EMPLOYEE: So, they've had enough of a backlog of these Spanish applications that they worked on them for three days straight.
Gov. Ron DeSantis stands by his Commodore 64 unemployment system. He boasted that "since March 15, the DEO has paid out $2.659 billion" — Hooray! — to more than “97 percent of eligible applicants" — Hoor ... wait, the state's unemployment rate is possibly as high as 20 percent. Stiffing even a small percentage of eligible applicants is unacceptable.
DeSantis also claims that if there's any problem processing unemployed people's claims, it's their own damn fault.
DESANTIS: Obviously, you've got to provide work history information.
Obviously ... oh, fuck you, pay them! No one is trying to grift a system that pays a piddling $275 a week, one of the lowest rates in the country. Disney World is closed. Tourism is dead. No one's working. Don't make this more difficult than it is.
The state employee also revealed that eligible applicants' work history was sometimes eaten by the devil machine.
STATE EMPLOYEE: I don't know where it's gone. It disappeared into never-never land. I'm pretty confident that this is an issue that's led to people being denied benefits that they're rightfully entitled to.
What a shit show, and it gets worse: Thursday, DEO officials revealed there was a data breach of the unemployment system, presumably because its firewall is the digital equivalent of an old security guard who fell asleep in his chair. At least 98 people that we know of had their personal data stolen. A reportedly crappy system flooded with personal data from desperate people is a candy store for cyber criminals.
Rick Scott, having made this mess as governor and who now stinks up the US Senate, is up for reelection in 2024. Floridians should damn well hold him accountable.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).