Q&A: Martha Sugalski talks with the man picked to fix Florida’s unemployment system

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — With thousands of Central Florida workers out of work and thousands more through Walt Disney World about to be furloughed, many are frustrated because when they turned to the state’s unemployment system, it didn’t work.

Now, Gov. Ron DeSantis has picked someone to fix it, Department of Management Service’s Secretary Jonathan Satter.

Our Martha Sugalski sat down with him to answer questions for you.


Read the transcript below.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What do you say to the thousands of Floridians who are beyond frustrated and exhausted dealing with a system that clearly hasn’t been working for them?

A: I hear them. I’ve spoken to friends who are in the same boat. The governor asked me asked me to come over Wednesday evening; I’ve been here nonstop. We’ve organized a laser-focused team that is taking care of all the issues. Right now we are just focused on getting Floridians paid as quickly as possible. That’s our number-one, singular, laser-focused mission.

Q: Sounds like it’s going to be a colossal undertaking to get this done. We learned today that the state unemployment rate is 4.3%, the highest in two years. Was the state not prepared to process claims from all these people who found themselves unemployed?

A: Yeah, that’s correct, and the same goes for all 49 states around the country. We’ve seen an unprecedented volume. The system was built back when times were better. If you compared it to a car to drive at a certain speed. we’ve now asked that car to drive 10 times as fast with a lot more passengers. It’s been very challenging, but we are mission-focused. We’ve got all sorts of resources. The governor has given me all of state government and the resources I need to fix a problem.

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Q: And so far, something like 4% who filed have seen checks. Can I assume this rate is unacceptable?

A: Completely, but from the governor’s eyes and mine, and all the people working here. Everyone is focused. We have thousands of state employees working on this as we speak.

Q: How are you going to help Floridians besides just the manpower? Do you have any specifics that you can share with us?

A: The governor is cutting bureaucracy. The governor executed an emergency order yesterday to cut bureaucracy and cut red tape, and eliminated the need for applicants to certify their unemployment every two weeks. That is now indefinite. So we don’t necessarily have to engage folks to have to come back in and re-certify that they continue to be unemployed.

We have to continue to make technology upgrades. We’ve made some. We’ve been playing a little bit of a whack-a-mole game. The system is very, very complicated. It touches a lot of data on the back end from a variety of resources. We are working day and night to get that fixed. We have marshaled all the employees across the state enterprise. There was an opportunity for Florida citizens to fill out paper applications and we’re using the state workforce to process those as quickly as we can.

Q: There was some concern that Disney workers, the ones being furloughed, will be auto-enrolled into the state unemployment system. Will they cut the line to get their benefits?

A: I am familiar with the concept that we’ve been able to aggregate a large amount of data from the Disney employees. I’m not familiar that they would go before somebody else that’s already been in the system. I’m not familiar with that concept.

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Q: Do you think you’ll need longer-term plans in the next few weeks to help Floridians get paid? When can they expect them to get their money?

A: In the coming days we will have more information about exact timing, but I’m very hopeful. I am optimistic, I need to be optimistic, that we will be getting people paid very promptly."

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.