Questions Continue Over Unemployment Eligibility And COVID-19 Test Data
One out of every three applications for unemployment in Florida has been deemed ineligible to get relief. Are the people applying for the support to blame, or is the trouble with the state’s unemployment system?
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Meantime, the firing of a Department of Health employee who worked on the state’s online COVID-19 data dashboard sparked new questions over what information is public and what’s not.
Gov. Ron DeSantis vigorously defended his administration's handling of the troubled unemployment filing system and COVID-19 health information as the state continues relaxing some regulations put in place to slow the spread of the virus.
On Friday, federal government statistics showed Florida's unemployment rate shot up to 12.9 percent in April. That is higher than what it was during the worst of the Great Recession. About 1 million Floridians have successfully filed for state unemployment benefits. That's less than two-thirds of the total unique jobless applications received by the state.
The governor said the number of people receiving help has steadily increased in the last few weeks as his administration works to retool the state’s overwhelmed unemployment system. About a half million people who applied for unemployment since the pandemic began have been ruled ineligible for benefits. The governor has suggested they didn't fill out the applications properly or submitted more than one application.
Spectrum News 13 in Orlando is among news organizations asking Floridians to submit their names if they are waiting to hear about their unemployment applications. Reporter Stephanie Coueignoux told The Florida Roundup on Friday they had collected more than 6,600 names.
"They became unemployed because of the coronavirus. They have filed for their unemployment benefits and they haven't received the full amount of benefits," she said.
"There's fear. They really don't know what their future holds. They're frustrated because a lot of these individuals have tried so many times to get through. And then there's the fatigue -- there's the fatigue of trying to just get what they need to survive."
The Florida Roundup heard from Floridians across the state having trouble dealing with the unemployment filing system.
I was laid off on March 21. On March 22. I went to register for unemployment. I had the most difficult time even registering. I got into the system finally three weeks later.Three weeks later, I get a email from DEO saying that I need to check my account, telling me that my application is not eligible this time because I have not completed all the necessary information, which I completed The system wipe out the information. I had to do it three times before it took. - Paul in Miami Beach
I've tried the last couple of months to apply. And they can't use the excuse of it being user error because I've gotten really darn good at it. The latest thing that they've done is send me an email saying they were granting me a temporary PIN and to use that with your Social Security number and you can start the process again. But it doesn't even let me do that because it's invalid PIN. - Dennis in Jacksonville
I'm an independent contractor. I wouldn't have applied for unemployment until they lifted the restrictions. So I expected issues from the onset. I got an email back finally after two and a half months saying that I was ineligible because there was some information that needed to be corrected. Unfortunately, when I went back to the site following the email from DEO, it took me to nothing. There was nothing that I could adjust. There was no guidance there. There were no messages. - Dave in Fort Myers
The firing of a Department of Health employee who worked on the state’s online COVID-19 data dashboard sparked new questions over what information is public and what’s not. Rebekah Jones says she was removed from managing the online dashboard in early May. She claims it was because she was asked to "manipulate" COVID-19 data.
On Wednesday, Gov. DeSantis defended her termination: "She is not involved in collating any data. She does not have the expertise to do that. She is not an epidemiologist," he said. "And what she was doing was she was putting data on the portal, which the scientists didn't believe was valid data."
Also this week, a nationwide look at COVID-19 data found big differences between state testing data and testing numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. Florida is home to the most extreme discrepancies. The COVID Tracking Project from The Atlantic magazine finds federal data shows 33 percent more testing than the state data. But the CDC figures include diagnostic tests and antibody tests. The federal data also includes all tests, even if someone was tested more than once.
USF Senior Associate Dean for Health Policy and Practice Jay Wolfson said data needs to be consistent to help inform decisions regarding when and how to reopen the economy. "We have to have fairly granular, textured data all the way down to a community level," he said, "knowing who has it, who has had it."
Wolfson expressed similar concerns regarding the publicly available data featured on the state's COVID-19 dashboard. "There are questions about the quality of the data that go into that dashboard because there are no consistencies and standards that are used across the state, within the counties, within institutions."