Governor Ron DeSantis and his newly-formed task force are working on reopening the state during the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. DeSantis said some municipalities should feel free to start opening parks and beaches, with physical distancing guidelines. It comes as his administration faces increased scrutiny for its response to the coronavirus.
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On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross spoke to Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez and Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried about some of the challenges the state now faces.
Here’s an excerpt from the discussion.
Tom Hudson: Let's start with unemployment. 29 of every 30 Floridians who filed for unemployment benefits are still waiting to learn if they will receive the money. What's the estimation of when they will learn?
JEANETTE NUÑEZ: That's been a very big concern of the governor. And as you've seen over the past couple of weeks, he's dedicated a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of resources, a lot of personnel to fixing the inadequacies of the previous system. Working to ensure that Floridians can now access it through the alternate site, the Pega site, asking state employees who are working from home are deemed non-essential at this point to pitch in and help access the call center. ... What we've really focused on the past couple of weeks is trying to get through that huge backlog, as you can imagine.
Over the past four weeks, the week ending March 21, we had 74,000 applications a week. The week ending March 28, had over 228,000. The week ending April 4 has over 169,000. In the week ending April 11, over 175,000. So obviously a tremendous amount of claims. But be that as it may, the Governor has asked Secretary Satter of the Department of Management Services to step in and to handle all unemployment covered related aspects of the Department of Economic Opportunity.
Secretary Satter comes from the private sector. He has tremendous expertise, and we're confident he's going to be able to work through that backlog, get Floridians the relief they need.
Hudson: Lieutenant Governor, let me interrupt you. Because all of those resources the governor has applied to the filing system, and still, 1 out of 30 Floridians who've applied have actually received money.
NUÑEZ: So, I was going to get to that. So as of last few weeks, what we've asked the secretary to do in his short time that he's been at the department is to sift through all that information and get us actual numbers. And apart from getting his actual numbers, is getting Floridians their checks. So, we know that over 141,000 of those claimants, their applications have been reviewed. We know that 121,000 payments equaling roughly $47 million have gone out to more than 33,000 Floridians. We are working diligently to try to get those applications process.
Melissa Ross: You've asked for the resumption of meetings of the state's cabinet, among other things you've been calling on the governor to do. Why is that important right now?
NIKKI FRIED: I think it's exceptionally important right now. I mean, I'm just listening to the Lieutenant Governor’s interview. You know that there's a lot of unanswered questions. There's a lot of information that's not coming out of the governor's office that we need answers on. And transparency is paramount.
I've said this all along is that, you know, when we're going through something like this, our people in our state are concerned, are worried or scared. And they're looking to their elected officials to give them answers and hope. And when they don't trust what is coming out of an elected official’s administration, it brings concerns.
And that's why I've asked the governor to please let us know what's going on. I want to know what he's thinking. I want to see what data he's looking at and be involved in decision making. You know, we as a cabinet, are independently elected. We make decisions together per our constitution.
And we're actually the only state in America that's like that. But the people of Florida elected each of us to do our jobs. And especially, you know, dealing with the fact that I oversee agriculture in our food supply chain here in the state of Florida. So, having cabinet meetings and having this transparency, allowing our agencies to be reporting to us, is really critical. Our citizens are depending on us to work together and showing a unified front and giving them all the answers.
Ross: I think many Florida residents have those same concerns. But let me ask you as a follow-up: It's my understanding you haven't been in touch with the Governor for a few weeks. You are the only Democrat in his cabinet. You've been accused by Republicans in Tallahassee of going after his crisis management for partisan reasons. What's your response to that?
FRIED: Absolutely not. This has nothing to do with him being Republican, me being a Democrat. You know, it is my job to hold our elected officials accountable as everybody should be holding me accountable, being held accountable, and asking poignant questions is not partisan. And I have said that since the day I got elected.
It’s always going to be a state before party. And the fact that they are, in fact, making this partisan, I mean, need to look at who the Governor is talking to and calling its members only of his own party, whereas I had been on town halls across the entire state with associations, with U.S. senators, with state representatives, with the members of our Florida congressional delegation, irrespective of what their party affiliation is. It's about getting information out. Nothing I have done has anything to do with partisan politics. It has everything to do about the wellness of our state and holding our leaders accountable. And I would expect the same from them to me.