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Florida Democratic lawmakers make push to extend unemployment benefits from 12 weeks to 26 weeks

27 Florida lawmakers send letter to Gov. DeSantis
Florida Democratic lawmakers called on Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 7, 2020, to swiftly make multiple changes to the state’s unemployment benefits program in an effort to help thousands of workers.
Posted at 2:19 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 21:58:50-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida Democratic lawmakers are calling on the governor to swiftly make multiple changes to the state’s unemployment benefits program in an effort to help thousands of workers.

The state's unemployment system has been under the microscope for the last few weeks as workers have suddenly found themselves out of a job amid the coronavirus. This has prompted a cascade of issues as unemployed workers seek to file for benefits, crashing the state's website.

U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Alcee Hastings were among 27 Florida lawmakers to have their name attached to a letter sent Monday to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The letter states in part, “As you are aware, unemployment in Florida is skyrocketing, through no fault of workers who are being laid off and told to stay home. Last week over 237,000 Floridians applied for unemployment insurance benefits, with thousands more unable to use the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO’s) broken website. Sadly, these figures will continue to multiply in the coming weeks.”

The letter urges DeSantis to do following:

1. Extend the length of Florida’s unemployment benefits from 12 weeks to 26 weeks

2. Significantly increase the maximum benefit from $275 per week to be comparable to states with similar costs of living

3. Utilize available federal funding under the CARES Act that provides 13 additional weeks of state benefits

4. Make benefits payments retroactive to when an individual became unemployed

5. Take all necessary action to make the claims process quick and efficient

MORE: Frustration mounts as Florida's unemployment site incurs problems

“Many families across the state are facing devastating financial distress because of loss of work due to the coronavirus pandemic. Governor DeSantis must take immediate action to boost benefits and fix the claims process,” said Frankel in a written statement.

Frankel and others spoke from their homes via a Zoom web conference.

“We can’t afford to have Floridians who are already struggling wait weeks and weeks before they start to see the assistance that should be coming to them right now,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch.

“Are the benefits going to run from the time they receive the paper applications? We are asking for the governor to change it so benefits begin to run on the date you lose your job,” said State Sen. Lori Berman

Frankel said she is still getting calls about problems with filing applications.

“I heard from people (Tuesday) who tried to get online and kept getting bumped off, so it is not operating correctly,” said Frankel. "Governor, we want you to know this process is not fixed."

On Monday, DeSantis said Florida's Claims Assistance Center received 3.8 million calls last week, and the state's CONNECT website has been overwhelmed with traffic.

To fix those difficulties, DeSantis said that Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity added 72 servers to increase capacity on the CONNECT site.

The governor also said Monday that 250 additional staff members started taking calls at the Claims Assistance Center, and another 500 are being trained to take calls starting on Tuesday.

“We want this site to be accessible to people, so they have a way to do it and its responsive,” DeSantis said Monday.

If you are having trouble accessing the online application, click here to download a Florida Reemployment Assistance Application and mail it to the following address:

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
P.O. Box 5350
Tallahassee, FL 32314-5350

Read the full letter sent by lawmakers to DeSantis on Tuesday: