With Rick Scott ascending in a new poll, state Democrats held a conference call with reporters today to blast the governor for his lack of concern regarding the state's defective online unemployment benefits registration system.
Numerous problems have ensued since the Oct. 15 debut of the $63 million CONNECT website, delaying payments to tens of thousands of Floridians. It took federal intervention this past weekend to finally open up the logjam and get the state to begin offering benefits — whereas in California, under similar dire circumstances with their website, officials began making payments immediately.
"Rick Scott's negligence has taken a human toll," said House Minority Leader Perry Thurston (D-Broward County). "Rick Scott has never set a deadline or a goal of fixing this system," he continued. "Rick Scott has never taken an ounce of responsibility. I can't remember him apologizing not once to the people who were suffering."
Approximately 290,000 benefit claims have yet to been paid to the unemployed, which Democratic Representative Lori Berman says amounts to about $20 million.
After U.S. Senator Bill Nelson complained about the issue last week in Washington, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez intervened last weekend and approved payments to Floridians whose claims had been stuck in limbo.
Initially, the state's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which was created by and is overseen by Scott, downplayed the site's issues and claimed "a majority" of unemployed Floridians were getting their benefits. That fired up Democrats from the get-go, though only now has the story broken through statewide.
In fact, Representative Berman bristled when asked by a reporter why Democrats are only now making hay of the situation. Berman said that she's been on top of the issue since late October, adding that she's requested hearings on the matter, but has constantly been given assurances by state officials that things were getting better.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said that the Scott administration's recent hiring of 300 new staffers to process unemployment claims is proof-positive that the site problems aren't going away anytime soon. "Rick Scott should have done immediate action if he were to care about struggling Floridians," she said, adding "Rick Scott needs to show he’s listening. Right now, it seems he’s got his head in the sand."
When asked what's next, Representative Thurston says Scott should make a statement that shows his concerns for those on the economic margins. "He's sitting there like King Richard or something." Thurston sounded put off that he and his colleagues are getting angry phone calls, yet have no say so on the issue. "How about taking some responsibility," Thurston asked.