DeSantis redirects state resources to help with rising unemployment during pandemic

ORLANDO, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced new measures to address the growing concern of unemployment in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, he signed an executive order directing all available staff to stop what they’re doing and instead help with unemployment.

Read: Gov. DeSantis statewide stay-at-home order set to take effect Friday in effort to help curb spread of COVID-19

The governor also directed the Department of Economic Opportunity to hire 100 more staff, and to bring in more servers to help with web traffic.

“I think this requires all hands on deck," DeSantis said during a news conference Thursday. “We have a lot of state government functions that are generally important, but just aren’t as important right now.”

In addition, the department will also mail out paper applications, and is also looking at developing a mobile app, since it can only be accessed on a computer as of now.

“People are already stressed as it is now about this virus and possible getting sick or contracting it,” said Bobby Hawley, who has filed for unemployment. “They shouldn’t also be stressed financially.”

Hawley said the website “does not seem to want to work properly.”

Karin Meeh, a waitress, is trying to file for unemployment through the call center and is making “probably over 100 to 200 calls a day just trying to get through,” she said.

“One time we were on hold for an hour and a half and we were so happy that we were on hold, then it disconnected,” she said.

There have more than 348,000 new unemployment claims filed in Florida. No unemployment system is prepared for a 500% jump in claims, but Florida was especially unprepared.

“I worked on it all day. (I) took a break in the middle of day and came back to it," said Zeyad El Mashak, who was laid off from his job at the airport.

He spent the day watching the state’s unemployment page load, reload and crash.

“When you go to the website, it keeps resetting your information, or it doesn’t let you go through. You press next, and it takes you to the same page again,” El Mashak said.

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity recommends using Internet Explorer, a web browser Microsoft started to phase out five years ago.

“We have been tragically far behind in investing in digital services and modernizing government,” said Rep. James Grant.

Read: Orange County map shows coronavirus hot spots in Central Florida

Grant said the state must be able to move faster to scale up quickly, and it is not doing that.

“Clearly, there seems to be a pretty significant problem when we’re getting the number of calls in my office and conversations I’m having with people who are having a hard time getting their unemployment,” Grant said.

The state did an overhaul of the unemployment system in 2012. It paid $77 million for the new system.




Shannon Butler

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.

Katlyn Brieskorn, WFTV.com

Katlyn Brieskorn is a Digital Assignment Editor at WFTV. She joined Channel 9 in July 2019.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.