Jobless Floridians Will Starve Because Rick Scott Spent $77 Million On A Crappy Unemployment Website

State/Local Politics

Donald Trump's re-election prospects are grim and growing grimmer. He absolutely must win Florida and the state's 29 electoral votes to remain in the White House, stinking up the joint. That's hard to do when his bungling response to the coronavirus is leaving a pile of bodies across the sunshine state.

Florida currently has 9,585 confirmed coronavirus cases with 1,215 people hospitalized and 163 people dead. Republicans consider that a big problem because Republicans run the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis was trying to depict the virus as a New York problem just last week. But New York liberals didn't make him refuse to close the state's beaches or futz around before finally putting a stay-at-home order in effect Friday. That was his own dumb ass.

Unemployment is also hitting Florida hard, and thousands of jobless workers are struggling to apply for help through what passes for Florida's system. In fairness, this is an unprecedented surge in jobless claims that would tax even the most competent system, but Florida's system is grossly inadequate by design. An adviser to the governor calls it a “shit sandwich," and former Republican governor, Rick Scott, now their senator, is the turd chef.


"[Florida's unemployment system] wasn't about saving money. It was about 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."

That sounds so awful it does seem like something current Florida Sen. Rick Scott would've done. The Tea Party asshole viciously slashed benefits during a period of high unemployment so he could avoid burdening rich people with taxes. He set up absurd hoops and hurdles before people could access even the miserly benefits the state offered. He excluded part-time and seasonal workers in a state that thrives on tourism. But hey, businesses only had to pay an unemployment tax of $50 per employee, the lowest in the country. Florida is where spring breakers come to party and Oliver Twist comes to die in poverty.

Scott spent $77 million on the state's unemployment website. (It's not my core competency, but I could probably design a crappy website for at least half that price.) The site is so Netscape-era rickety that the state is now resorting to paper applications. Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters tweeted that "someone should go to jail" for this, and we agree if that person's name rhymes with Rick Scott.

Building a new unemployment website was supposedly a “top priority" for Scott, so much so that the contract was awarded to Deloitte Consulting. One of the contractor's lobbyists at the time was Brian Ballard, the co-chair of Scott's inaugural finance committee.

DeSantis isn't just a poor sap stuck with the product of Scott's evil. He was warned that the website was shit last year.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

In a damning 2019 report, auditors found that they had flagged all of the problems with the website in previous audits going back to 2015 — yet state officials had not made a serious attempt to fix them. [...]

When the site launched, website glitches locked thousands of recipients out of the system and delayed their payments by weeks.

The site, in violation of state law, required applicants to sign in with their Social Security numbers, and the site had so many problems that people found their claims denied or were paid claims when they weren't qualified for.

DeSantis knew about this, but he didn't care. He probably knew poor people would suffer but he ever envisioned a situation where anyone would notice. How wrong he was.

Unemployed Floridians who manage to “successfully" apply for benefits will have to get by on Scott's leftover gruel. State unemployment benefits max out at $275 a week, which I suppose will encourage them to rush out and find jobs that don't exist. Maybe some bold entrepreneur will create a COVID-19 vaccine while sleeping under a bridge. Even with the federal government's largesse of an additional $600 a week and a little more than three additional months of eligibility, they'll still end up with far less than residents of most other states. And they can't exactly leave.

Republicans normally love the fable of the ant and grasshopper, but this time they played the grasshopper. They were fully on board with Scott's changes to the unemployment system; it was estimated to have saved businesses more than $2.3 billion between 2011 and 2020. Now the coronavirus has delivered a harsh winter and the poor people they viewed as mere ants are going to be more numerous and more desperate. Every Republican will pay the price electorally as the pain inflicted from their cruelty and greed will become even more evident and disgraceful.

[Politico / Tampa Bay Times / New York Magazine]

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Stephen Robinson

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).

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