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With Florida Now In 'Phase 2,' Protesters Say Unemployment System Still Needs Fixing

Protesters gathered in front of Florida's Historic Capitol Wednesday, calling for a fix to the state's unemployment system.
Protesters gathered in front of Florida's Historic Capitol Wednesday, calling for a fix to the state's unemployment system.

Braving the mid-morning heat, a small group of protesters gathered at the Historic Capitol Wednesday, to tell Florida leadership the state’s unemployment system still needs fixing.

When Judy Tanzosch was furloughed from her job in March, she started trying to apply for benefits on the state’s CONNECT system.

“My situation, I applied on March 27, or I started to apply – and it took 45 days for me to be able to actually get the application completed in CONNECT, because the CONNECT system would consistently boot me out in various stages of the process,” Tanzosch told WFSU.

Then, after 11 weeks, Tanzosch says she was notified that she’d been denied. For that reason, she says she’s waiting to be invited to apply for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.

“You have to be denied for Florida benefits first, and then in a few days they will ‘invite’ you to apply for federal benefits,” Tanzosch said. “And then you start the application process all over.”

The PUA in Florida offers up to $275 per week, and is meant to be a safety valve for those who typically aren’t eligible for state benefits, like gig workers.

Earlier this week, Democratic state Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez testified before the U.S. Senate’s finance committee, where he ripped the state’s CONNECT system.

“Florida entered this crisis with one of, if not the least prepared unemployment systems,” Rodriguez said. “No state provides a fewer number of weeks.”

Florida offers unemployed workers up to $275 dollars a week in traditional benefits.

“We’re near the bottom in weekly benefits, capped at $275 and have major gaps in eligibility,” Rodriguez told senators. “Add to that an application and payment system infamous for its failures, and how persistent those failures are, having endured, unchanged, through several gubernatorial terms, successive audits, and prior federal intervention.”

Rodriguez thanked members of congress for passing the CARES act, responsible for giving many Americans a stimulus check. But, he said the Sunshine State is slow to disperse some of the federal money that should be going to Floridians:

“Florida remains an outlier in deploying the CARES act. Of those deemed ineligible for traditional unemployment, only about one fourth end up qualifying for the catch-all PUA program,” he said. “A rate far below other states.”

Tallahassee’s small protest Wednesday brought out a Jacksonville congressional candidate. Albert Chester is running for a House seat.

“My mom’s a teacher, my grandfather, he’s struggling to get his unemployment right now, hadn’t received anything – and people can’t live like that,” Chester said, holding a sign alongside other protesters. “I’m just here and want people to know I’m always going to support the lifeblood of America, and that’s middle America, low to middle-America.”

Chester also had a message for state leadership:

“We’ve just got to be more proactive, because that’s going to keep us out of certain situations, because if you’re reacting, by that time it’s too late – you’ve got people that are hungry, people on the brink of losing their homes, their cars, all those things.”

Governor Ron DeSantis hasn’t been a big defender of the state’s CONNECT system, calling it among other insults a “jalopy.” He’s called for an investigation into how the contracts were forged to build the system, under previous governor and now U.S. Senator Rick Scott.

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