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Editorials

Is DeSantis here to help or hurt the unemployed? He should OK retroactive benefits — now | Editorial

 

Never mind that the state’s online portal for unemployment applications has failed Floridians in their hour —and days and weeks — of need since the coronavirus pandemic stole their paychecks.

Thousands have lost their jobs in the past three weeks. But when they tried to get information or apply for unemployment benefits, they hit Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity’s archaic and glitch-ridden portal, CONNECT, which prevented them from signing up.

Floridians should not have to endure such needless frustration, especially at this already stressful time. On Thursday, the lines for paper applications continued across the county’s library system. This followed Tuesday’s perilous crush of people seeking paper applications in Hialeah. Hundreds of jobless people seeking benefits formed a line to apply, violating social-distancing protocols.

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Adding to their desperation, is the state rule that mandates that applicants’ benefits date to the day they file with the state, not the day that they lost their jobs.

To his credit, Gov. DeSantis has said publicly that he supports making unemployment benefits effective from the day applicants lost their jobs, not when they were finally able to file with the state. He said so at a news conference on Miami Beach Tuesday.

Well, by Thursday, he had yet to announce that he had signed an order that would give much-needed peace of mind to the nearly half-million Floridians left jobless by the COVID-19 pandemic — the most unemployed in state history. What is he waiting for?

Also on Thursday, Miami commissioners, at the urging of Commissioner Manolo Reyes, passed a resolution asking that the state’s unemployment benefits to be made retroactive. “It’s the right thing to do,” Reyes said. Exactly. Last week, close to 170,000 Floridians filed for unemployment benefits.

The commission’s move comes after members of Miami-Dade legislative delegation from both sides of the aisle sent the governor a letter Wednesday asking him to do the same thing — create the exemption and make unemployment benefits retroactive.

This show of bipartisan unity is heartening and makes clear that the governor should take this issue seriously.

“This is an essential thing to do since the delays in the application being submitted is of no fault of the applicant,” said Florida senator and delegation Vice Chair Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat, in a news release.

Many state elected officials have since followed suit by circulating a signed petition.

Those left in the unnerving maze of red tape should not have to worry about playing the “when-did-I-file?” game with the state.

The state plans to spend up to an eye-popping $100 million to upgrade the unemployment system. DeSantis has already approved temporary measures to make it easier to apply for benefits, plus the state has hired hundreds of new employees to deal with the onslaught of applicants. Additionally, the governor has waived the requirement that the applicant must be looking for a new job and wait a week before receiving benefits. He has also allowed paper applications, which have been a game changer, but a tactic that, given the lines to get them, defeats the purpose of keeping people healthy and socially distanced. Can’t these paper applications be made available as a simple download, separate from the problematic CONNECT website?

The coronavirus has cost thousands of Floridians their paychecks. It’s unconscionable that the state is deliberately costing them even more money.

Sign the order, governor, immediately.

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