Gov. Ron DeSantis says 97 percent of eligible claims have been paid

COVID-19 data manager fired for 'insubordination'
Posted at 3:05 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 19:33:39-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference at the state capitol in Tallahassee focusing on the coronavirus, unemployment and jobless benefits.

He was joined by Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter.

According to latest figures from the Department of Economic Opportunity, 1.4 million claims have been processed with more than $2 billion paid to unemployed workers since March 15.

DeSantis said Tuesday that 97 percent of eligible claimants have been paid.

"The department has paid out more money in the last 10 weeks than it had in the previous five years combined," said DeSantis.

However, he also still compared the state's system to a, “jalopy in the Daytona 500."

The governor said many claims have been rejected for several reasons including incomplete information and even fraud.

Some workers have pushed back on that assertion, saying the state's confusing website and application process are partly to blame.

NEWS CONFERENCE: Gov. DeSantis gives update on unemployment in Florida (36 minutes)

DeSantis said more than 400,000 people who have applied are not eligible.

"There are people that have already been paid who have applied in the last 10 days, whose applications were submitted, fully, done. They were verified and the money has gone out," said DeSantis.

Satter said some callers to the state's phone line have had to wait on hold for one hour and 39 minutes.

“It’s really long and that’s the reason why we scaled up from about 40 people answering the phone to 6,000. We have hundreds of people that are in different stages of training, so we can get those wait times down ,” said Satter.

Satter said the state received a million phone calls on Monday with 50 million phone calls since March 15.

"We are trying to find people the benefits that they are eligible for. At the end of the day, there is just going to be a large pool of folks who are just not eligible for a large variety of reasons," said Satter.

Former COVID-19 Data Manager Fired

In a separate issue, the governor deflected a question regarding the firing of Rebekah Jones, one of the people who designed the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, saying it was a “nonissue," and he was proud of the site's transparency.

After the news conference, the state sent an email that said Jones was fired for "a repeated course of insubordination."

Below is the full statement sent by the state regarding the matter:

Rebekah Jones’ duties were to display data obtained by the Department’s epidemiological staff. The team that created the graphics on the dashboard, which was made up by multiple people, received data that was provided by subject matter experts, including Senior Epidemiologists, Surveillance Epidemiologists, and a Senior Database Analyst. Rebekah Jones exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the Department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors. The blatant disrespect for the professionals who were working around the clock to provide the important information for the COVID-19 website was harmful to the team. Accuracy and transparency are always indispensable, especially during an unprecedented public health emergency such as COVID-19. Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the Department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment.Please note that under Florida law correspondence sent to the Governor's Office, which is not confidential or exempt pursuant to chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes, is a public record made available upon request.