Gov. Ron DeSantis has recently been facing backlash from Florida journalists, elected officials and unemployed residents regarding the state's reopening process and the distribution of "re-employment assistance" benefits. As he continues to deal with the state's chaos, DeSantis is showing some signs of irritation.
A May 18 COVID-19 press conference in Jacksonville reiterated that Florida was now in full Phase 1, meaning restaurants, retailers, museums and libraries can operate at 50 percent capacity, and that gyms and sports venues can open. DeSantis recognized that statewide there had been 30,000 tests with 1,200 new cases on Sunday and 24,000 tests and 700 new cases on Monday. He also announced the completion of the I-4 and State Road 408 interchange, which he hopes will increase safety and ease traffic and commerce.Despite these announcements, when DeSantis got ready to answer questions from gathered reporters, the second question directed to him was regarding the "names of nearly 5,000 Floridans," all of whom "have filed in March and are still waiting" for unemployment benefits.
DeSantis responded by asking if they have submitted "a valid Social Security number." The reporter said that he did not have the applicants' Social Security numbers and accused DeSantis of "still dismissing that people who filed ..." – DeSantis cut off the question by saying that he was not dismissing anyone, and asked if those people had "completed the application."
DeSantis said that "more than 2 billion [dollars] has now been paid out and that of all the unique, complete and eligible applicants, 97 percent have now been paid." He also affirmed that data showing "who's all been paid" and "the common pitfalls for people that have not been paid" would be released on Tuesday.
As the exchanges continued generating headlines Monday afternoon, the governor's office released quotes from 34 Florida leaders applauding DeSantis' leadership.
Florida’s Reemployment Assistance Claims Dashboard shows 2,032,397 total claims received as of Tuesday, with 1,492,020 of those claims identified as unique claimants. A total of 999,643 eligible claims have been processed and 975,656 of those claimants have been paid out, or 97.6 percent. Just over 2 billion dollars has been paid to claimants so far.
At Monday's press conference, DeSantis responded to the reporter that it was the his "responsibility ... to tell [his] viewers whether that someone is a valid applicant or not." He clarified, "If someone applies and doesn't supp[ly] a Social Security number, guess what ... you can't pay under those circumstances."
The reporter pointed out that it was DeSantis' responsibility to do just that. DeSantis pointed his finger and said, "No, no, no. Here's the problem, you are not even investigating whether they're valid claims."
A tweet by DeSantis about the May 18 press conference was met with numerous replies from Floridians who claim to have filed for unemployment but not been paid.
One user replied, stating that “NO ONE WAITING ON UNEMPLOYMENT CAN AFFORD GAS, INSURANCE OR ANYTHING ELSE! You are holding OUR MONEY HOSTAGE! PAY US! Filed March 13th- NO PAYMENTS.”
This is not the only issue DeSantis has had to deal with recently. The scientist and architect behind Florida's COVID-19 dashboard, Rebekah Jones, told CBS12 News that she "refused to manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen." She says this led to her being fired from her position on May 5 as geographic information systems manager for the Florida Department of Health.
As the news surfaced, DeSantis' office published a news release Monday afternoon featuring 34 Florida leaders applauding DeSantis' Safe, Smart, Step-by-Step Plan for Florida's Recovery.
The news release states, "Today, state officials and Florida leaders representing businesses, health care, fitness centers, and theme parks, applauded Governor Ron DeSantis’ Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery Full Phase 1 Plan."
None of the negative feedback that DeSantis is receiving is mentioned in the news release.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says that she applauds DeSantis’ "decisive yet guarded leadership," adding, "The fact-based approach Florida has followed throughout this crisis has withstood and outperformed speculation and projected models thus far."
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew attested that "the state of Florida is able to fully implement Full Phase 1 ... due to Gov. DeSantis’ decisive leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic." And Dr. Wael Barsoum, M.D., president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida, said that the clinic is "appreciative of Gov. DeSantis’ leadership and his utilization of facts and data throughout the decision-making process."
Finding 34 political and business allies to praise DeSantis might have been easier than finding positive comments from everyday Floridians navigating benefits, especially after being told that the delays are probably their own fault.
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