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Florida's new head of unemployment benefits promises checks will come faster

Posted at 8:12 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 20:13:32-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- His number one goal is getting Floridians paid. That’s what the new head of the state’s unemployment system says.

The governor shuffled Management Services Secretary Jon Satter to take over the role Wednesday. The secretary isn’t ousting Economic Opportunity’s current director, Ken Lawson. Instead, he'll be bumped to responsibilities outside COVID-19.

Lawson had faced calls for resignation after a month of complaints that the state system was busted, unable to handle a surge of applications.

Satter is now tasked with clearing a backlog of claims which he estimated to be around 790,000. The secretary said DEO had received about 825,000 claims since the virus thrashed the state economy. Only about 35,000 of them had been processed, Satter said.

“It is a daunting task,” Satter said. “But, we’re mission-focused. We’re laser-focused. We’ve got teams working 24-7. I’ll be working all weekend, making sure this happens.”

DeSantis said a provision in state law was partly to blame for DEO's slowdown cutting checks. The provision required applicants to return to the state’s overwhelmed website to re-certify their status as unemployed every two weeks.

“If the system is suffering under too much stress, why would we want people to go on and re-certify that,” DeSantis said in a news briefing Thursday. “We know what the economy is doing right now.”

The governor signed an executive order to waive the requirement. He hoped that would free up some online capacity as users continue to complain of lag and site crashes despite the addition of more servers in recent days.

“This will hopefully free up some space to let more claims through,” DeSantis said. “It’s not a magic bullet, there are a bunch of moving pieces here but I do think it will help.”

Satter believed the order would help move through about 80,000 claims almost immediately. He said he was committed to continuing to find efficiencies.

“I know people that have applied for benefits,” Satter said. “They’re in the same boat. I feel for them. I want to make an impact to getting these benefits paid to them as quickly as we can.”

Satter was appointed to his DMS position last year by governor DeSantis. His background outside the government is 28 years in banking, real estate and logistics.