DeSan­tis now blames user er­ror for un­em­ploy­ment woes.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE -

As if get­ting laid off isn’t scary enough, as if get­ting put through the un­em­ploy­ment wringer isn’t hu­mil­i­at­ing and frus­trat­ing enough, Gov. Ron DeSan­tis has de­cided to start blam­ing the job­less for the state’s fail­ure to pay ben­e­fits.

In other words, the gov­er­nor thinks the vast ma­jor­ity of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple who still haven’t re­ceived un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits to pay for rent and food have only them­selves to blame. User er­ror.

Not a state un­em­ploy­ment sys­tem that was de­signed to fail and frus­trate work­ers who find them­selves out of a job through no fault of their own. A sys­tem that, in the year 2020, is ask­ing peo­ple to fax in­for­ma­tion.

We get the gov­er­nor’s frus­tra­tion. DeSan­tis is tak­ing a lot of heat for an al­ba­tross he in­her­ited from for­mer Gov. Rick Scott. And DeSan­tis had been in of­fice barely a year when the econ­omy col­lapsed, pro­duc­ing an un­prece­dented num­ber of claims (not that we think fix­ing the sys­tem would have ever been a pri­or­ity for the gov­er­nor with­out the prompt­ing of a pan­demic).

But we’ve reached a new level of tonedeaf­ness when re­spon­si­bil­ity is shifted from the state to the ci­ti­zens who des­per­ately need ben­e­fits they’re en­ti­tled to.

How many times have we heard that govern­ment should be run like a busi­ness? Even if we take DeSan­tis at his word, that ap­pli­cants who haven’t got­ten paid are mak­ing mis­takes, then why isn’t the govern­ment do­ing ev­ery­thing in its power to help cus­tomers rec­tify those mis­takes rather than point­ing an ac­cus­ing finger at them?

The gov­er­nor’s newly ag­gres­sive pos­ture first emerged on Fri­day dur­ing a press con­fer­ence when, asked by a re­porter about out-of-work Florid­i­ans not get­ting ben­e­fits even though they first ap­plied in March, the gov­er­nor snapped, “Who’s been wait­ing?”

The re­porter replied that he al­ready had sent the names to the Depart­ment of Eco­nomic Op­por­tu­nity, which runs the un­em­ploy­ment sys­tem.

That prompted DeSan­tis to say: “I can tell you that DEO goes through this, and nine times out of 10 the ap­pli­ca­tion’s in­com­plete. And I think if you have com­plied in that time pe­riod, and your ap­pli­ca­tion’s com­plete, and you qual­ify, I think 99.99% of those folks have been paid.”

Meet some peo­ple who haven’t been paid, gov­er­nor, and who don’t ap­pear to have botched the ap­pli­ca­tions they first filed in March.

An­gelique Sam­brook was an events plan­ner for The Porch restau­rant in Win­ter Park. She first ap­plied for un­em­ploy­ment on March 22 and was twice deemed in­el­i­gi­ble even though she had worked there more than five years.

She’s spent hours on the phone, hours on the state web­site, and has no ex­pla­na­tion yet for why the state turned her down.

Or Astrid Lowe, a Cen­tral Florida YMCA em­ployee who filed her claim on March 20, the day af­ter she was fur­loughed. Let’s hear her story in her own words:

“As of to­day it still states pend­ing, and I have not re­ceived any ben­e­fits. I have called hun­dreds and hun­dreds of times with­out any­one pick­ing up the phone! I have emailed and am only get­ting an ER­ROR mes­sages back. On May 1, I fi­nally got hold of some­one at the DEO and he sug­gested via a su­per­vi­sor to reap­ply on their new web­site specif­i­cally for COVID-19 peo­ple. He claimed it was eas­ier and faster. That has now been 2.5 weeks and all it says is ‘sub­mit­ted.’ I am be­side my­self with frus­tra­tion. My em­ployer, who I reached out to on Fri­day, hasn’t even re­ceived my claim and it now has been 8 weeks. The sys­tem is so messed up it is ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous.”

Here’s Bill Christ­man of Kis­sim­mee, a per­sonal trainer at LA Fit­ness who ap­plied for un­em­ploy­ment on March 18:

“I pro­vided all in­for­ma­tion that DEO re­quested, even af­ter be­ing in­ex­pli­ca­bly kicked off the site mul­ti­ple times. I called to check on the sta­tus of my ben­e­fits at the 4-5 week mark and was told ev­ery­thing was in or­der and to keep wait­ing. I called at the 8-9 week mark and again was ad­vised that ev­ery­thing was in or­der with my claim and to hurry up and wait. While Dis­ney cast mem­bers have al­ready stared to re­ceive their ben­e­fits, I haven’t seen a cent. I have worked en­tire adult life and just want the ben­e­fits I’ve earned and am al­legedly en­ti­tled to. It’s be­yond frus­trat­ing not know­ing if I will re­ceive ben­e­fits or not. My fear is I have waited this whole time just for the DEO to re­ject my claim in the end for no rea­son.”

Thou­sands more just like them are wait­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the state’s own dash­board, 1.37 mil­lion peo­ple have ap­plied for un­em­ploy­ment, and the state has paid nearly 780,000 of those, a lit­tle more than half.

The gov­er­nor prob­a­bly is right that many of those who haven’t been paid were deemed in­el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive un­em­ploy­ment for one rea­son or an­other. What’s mys­ti­fy­ing is how DeSan­tis, know­ing bet­ter than any­one how lousy and glitchy the state’s sys­tem is, can be so con­fi­dent those peo­ple truly are not el­i­gi­ble.

This was a bad mo­ment for the gov­er­nor. Peo­ple are hurt­ing. They’re scared. They’re broke. But DeSan­tis gets peev­ish, and sounds like he’s to­tally over an­swer­ing ques­tions about un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

So over it that, af­ter declar­ing his be­lief that user er­ror is be­hind so many of the prob­lems on Fri­day, he pleaded with re­porters to change the sub­ject, ak­ing, “Does any­one have any ques­tions about, kind of, Florida’s re­open­ing?”

Ed­i­to­ri­als are the opin­ion of the Or­lando Sen­tinel Ed­i­to­rial Board and are writ­ten by one of its mem­bers or a de­signee. The ed­i­to­rial board con­sists of Opin­ion Editor Mike Laf­ferty, Jen­nifer A. Mar­cial Oca­sio, Jay Red­dick, David Whit­ley and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Send emails to in­sight@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com.

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

A mes­sage ask­ing for un­em­ploy­ment help is writ­ten on a car win­dow out­side a home in Kis­sim­mee in mid-April.

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