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Campaigns Step Up Florida Ground Game

October 20th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

The Presidential race is tightening in Florida, with recent polls showing a near tie.

Both Biden and Trump’s campaigns are making multiple stops in the Sunshine State this week before the final presidential debate, but the outcome is more uncertain than ever.

Stopping at a Black Voices for Trump rally in Florida’s capital city, the Trump Campaign wrapped up another day of its fourth bus tour through the state.

On the bus, we spoke with Congressman Matt Gaetz, who said reaching minority voters has been a central focus of the President’s reelection bid.

“The policies of the Trump administration have benefited every community and we’re grateful for the diverse coalition we have,” said Gaetz.

Kamala Harris also made stops in Jacksonville and Orlando this week.

Biden Campaign Surrogate Dianne Williams-Cox was in Jax and is confident in Biden’s support from minority voters.

“We need to unify. We need to come back together. We need to build back better and we can do it,” said Williams-Cox.

Neither the Biden or Trump campaign expects the late breaking New York Post story alleging the Vice President played a role in his son’s foreign business ties to make a difference in the final results.

“I think many people are saying, ‘what article’? We’ve seen this played out before. You know, the Hillary emails, the ‘this’ and the ‘that’,” said Williams-Cox.

American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said social media’s response to the story is evidence the Trump campaign is fighting a two front battle.

“It was basically almost impossible to find this article online as soon as it broke. Why? Because they’re trying to use their corporate money to make sure Joe Biden is elected President,” said Schlapp.

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns have acknowledged the possibility of post election lawsuits in the event of a close race.

But both expect a smooth election here in Florida.

Biden and Trump face off in the final presidential debate at 9 pm Wednesday.

Debate topics include, COVID-19, race relations, American families, climate change, national security and leadership.

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Saving Voters From Themselves

October 20th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Across Florida thousands of mail in ballots are already getting a second look by election canvassing officials after voters mis-marked their ballots, changed their minds or chose to waste their votes.

Under Florida law, Canvassing boards include the local Supervisor of Elections, a county judge, and the Chair of the County Commission, but substitutions are allowed if one of the officers is unavailable, or a candidate on the ballot.

Right now, those boards in every county are saving thousands of voters from their own mistakes.

“The last one didn’t go through the machine because they put their I voted sticker on the ballot,” said Mary Ann Lindley, a member of the canvasing board in Leon County.

We observed the Leon County canvassing board in action and took away some key lessons.

Lesson number one: Don’t vote for more than one Candidate in a race.

“Two people for this Presidential. Three people for this Presidential,” said Lindley.

In that case, Joe Biden lost two votes; Trump one.

Lesson two: Don’t use red ink
“That’s basically invisible ink, so we’re very clear on how the voter intended to vote and we are able to remark it for them,” said Holly Thompson on the Leon Elections staff.

Lesson three: Try to be as clear as possible.

“So just be very solid. Those light little ball point pen marks are hard to read,” said Lindley.

On one ballot we saw, the voter tried to erase their first choice.

On another, Joe Biden’s name was bubbled in, but then there was a write in for Will Farrell.

In that case, the board voted to count the Biden vote.

The final lesson: if you plan to vote by mail, don’t wait.

“Don’t mail it to us any later than October 27th, but I would advise you if you are going through the mail, sooner than that,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley.

And if you do vote by mail, you can check online to see if your vote has been counted, and if not, fix any problems.

What’s clear after watching the canvassing board, is that its members go out of their way to make sure the intent of the voter is understood.

 

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Late Drop Box Guidance Puts Pressure on Election Officials

October 19th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

In a last minute memo sent to Supervisors of Elections, Governor Ron DeSantis has said all mail ballot drop off boxes must be staffed at all times.

But supervisors question whether the guidance is enforceable and voting groups say the late advice is likely to sew confusion.

If you want to drop off your vote by mail ballot in person, you’ll likely put it in a secure drop box at an early voting site.

The state, in an effort to protect these boxes says they must be staffed by a law enforcement officer or a Supervisor of Elections employee at all hours.

“Having an armed security guard sitting next to the drop box during off hours, that might intimidate some voters,” said Patricia Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The memo went out just five days before the start of early voting.

“Why are they just issuing this now?” said Brigham.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley already staffs his drop boxes, but said that isn’t necessarily the case statewide.

“Some people hadn’t planned on doing that because they maybe didn’t think that was necessary,” said Earley.

He is skeptical there is enough time for those supervisors to change their game plan.

“Trying to give guidance at the very last minute, it’s not real helpful,” said Earley. “It’s certainly going to be difficult to put that, ‘requirement’ out there at the very last minute yeah. We saw a need and so we started working on this weeks ago.”

The memo from the state suggested guarding drop boxes will prevent voter intimidation and possible vandalism of ballots.

And Earley said the state makes a decent point, since many drop boxes are outside this year because of the pandemic.

“But again it all kind of all depends on the situation that each county has at hand,” said Earley.

State statute does require drop boxes be staffed during operating hours if they are located at a site not officially designated for early voting.

Whether that rule applies to all drop boxes at all hours is where interpretations between supervisors and the state split.

We asked the Department of State if it has any enforcement authority if a supervisor does not staff a drop box, but did not receive an answer in time for this story.

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Elections Officials Say Not Enough Time to Purge Felons from Voter Rolls

October 16th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Florida’s Division of Elections is telling Election Supervisors it will begin identifying registered voters who are ineligible because they haven’t paid off all their financial obligations related to past felony convictions.

However, their removal from the rolls isn’t likely before November third.

The Division of Elections sent an email to Florida’s 67 election supervisors, informing them the division will be reviewing the eligibility of registered voters with past felony convictions to determine whether they still owe debts related to their sentence.

Craig Latimer, Florida Supervisors of Elections President said once a registration is contested, the process of removing a voter from the rolls can take up to two months.

“Quite frankly, there’s going to be nobody that should be taken off the roll with us being 19 days out from an election,” said Latimer.

But Patricia Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida worries the message sent by the state could have other consequences.

“This is a clear effort to intimidate voters and to sew doubt in the minds of our returning citizens,” said Brigham.

Election supervisors we spoke with said as long as you are registered and honestly believe you are eligible to vote, you can do so.

Even if the state raises questions about your eligibility.

And Leon County Election Supervisor Mark Earley said once your vote is cast, it will be counted.

“Once we receive a ballot and tabulate a ballot it’s counted and you can’t take those results back out because it’s mixed in with all the other ballots. You know, voting is anonymous,” said Earley.

Whether a legal challenge may be waged to contest the election results based on felon votes is an open question.

But there is at least one case from 2016 where a similar challenge failed.

The 2016 case involved a Putnam County Sheriff’s race where 32 felons voted.

A county judge ruled the votes should still be counted because the felons were lawfully registered when their ballots were cast.

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Good and The Bad of the Jobless Report

October 16th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

New unemployment numbers released today show 20 of 24 metro areas in the state gained jobs during September, even as the jobless rate climbed three tenth’s of a percent.

The state’s high unemployment will result in more benefits for the unemployed, but not until after the first of the year.

770,000 people remained unemployed in September.

Businesses added 36,000 more jobs and government another 11,0000.

“This figure is down 456,000 jobs from a year ago. This represents an over the year decline of 5.1 percent,” said DEO economist Adrienne Johnston.

Eight out of ten industries gained jobs.

Only other services and construction declined.

“Hiring began to rebound in May with 359,000 hires,” said Johnston.

The jobless survey was conduced Sept 12, so that means it didn’t capture hotel and theme park layoffs that have been announced since then.

“I’m certain it’s going to go back up again. There’s way too many folks who have been laid off and furloughed, both,” said State Senator Linda Stewart.

Under state law, the average unemployment for July, August and September are used to calculate how many weeks of benefits the state will pay.

Florida will go from paying just 12 to a total of 19 weeks.

“The new duration of benefits will go into effect on January one,” said Johnston.

But benefits are likely to be the most hotly contested issue when lawmakers meet in March.

“If we don’t end COVID, people won’t go or be asked to go back to work, and people won’t visit the parks,” said Stewart.

And one of the reasons the jobless rate went up in September is because people who were frustrated and stopped looking for a job are once again on the search.

That makes them unemployed instead of discouraged.

Florida’s unemployment rate remains three tenth’s of a percent below the national average.

The number of increased weeks for benefits is subject to change based on any revisions to the September data.

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Democrats Outpacing Republicans in Vote By Mail

October 15th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

When it comes to vote by mail, Democrats are vastly out performing Republicans based on the 2 million ballots cast so far.

While the mail ballot return rate and polls lean in Biden’s favor, neither party is ready to call the race just yet.

Democrats have returned more than one million mail ballots ahead of the General Election, outperforming Republicans by more than 400,000.

Democrats also have 400,000 more outstanding mail ballots than Republicans.

How many end up returning them could make a huge difference.

Florida GOP Chair and State Senator Joe Gruters believes in-person voting will be where his candidate shines.

“Our voters are, you know, typical old-fashioned. They like to go in person and have their voices heard,” said Gruters.

Even Steve Shale, head of the ‘Unite the County’ Super Pac backing Joe Biden isn’t ready to call the race for his candidate.

“There are 400,000 more absolutely certain Republican voters than Democrats yet to vote. So right now if you take that with the early voting you basically have a partisan tie,” said Schale.

Republicans see their advantage in new voter registrations, which Gruters believes will be about 200,000 more than Democrats when the final tally comes out.

“I’d rather have more voters to go after than just shifting when my voters vote. We know our voters are going to vote,” said Gruters.

But Biden has advantages in some key demographics.

“He’s doing better with Democrats than Hilary Clinton did, he’s doing better with Republicans and better with independents. So if we’re in a tie situation that probably benefits my guy a little bit,” said Schale.

In the end, as the GOP Chairman put it, this election will be decided not by persuading voters to change their minds, but by parties turning out their base.

And both are clearly energized this year.

Most polls still show Joe Biden leading Trump in Florida.

At this time during the 2016 Presidential race, polls showed Trump with a slight advantage in the Sunshine State.

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Trump Live Exclusive Stream

October 14th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

The Economic Club of Florida was one of just six in the nation who got special treatment from President Donald Trump Wednesday.

The President did a live stream Q&A from the Rose Garden after speaking on what he’s done for the economy during his first term.

Viewers in Tallahassee watched in the private Governor’s Club in the shadow of the state Capitol.

In some of his first words, the President predicted economic doom if he’s not re-elected.

“That’s what you’ll have, a depression. I will deliver optimism, opportunity, and growth.They will deliver pessimism, stagnation, decline and very high taxes,” said Trump.

He didn’t mince words about his accomplishments.

“Income for Black Americans grew nine times more during my leadership that during the eight years before I took office,” said Trump.

And he defended his handling of the pandemic

“We reduced the fatality rate 85 percent since April,” said Trump.

Democratic State Legislator Carlos Smith believes the President’s words on recovery are premature.

“How can you say, oh, look, look at how I’ve been able to help the economy bounce back as Disney issues as press release saying they are laying off 2,000 employees,” said Rep. Smith.

Reaction from those in the room was positive, but remember, no one who came was undecided before it started.

“The Democrats haven’t offered anything different. When this whole thing started, Nancy Pelosi said let’s go down to Chinatown. The Vice President called him xenophobic,” said Barney Bishop, who considers himself a conservative leaning Democrat.

In person attendance was sparse.

“We had close to 2,000 people attend nationwide, but we could have had many more if we had more time,” said Florida Economic Club President Cindy O’Connel.

But the fact the President spent so much time for a small audience clearly shows he things every vote matters.

The event got the go ahead late Saturday.

The President also gave a shout out to Governor Ron DeSantis for his efforts at cutting drug prices paid by the state under legislation passed last year.

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House Speaker Questions COVID Death Toll

October 14th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

15,595 Floridians have died of COVID-19 according to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, but a new analysis of COVID-19 death certificates conducted by the Florida House of Representatives suggests the count may be inflated.

The outgoing House Speaker asked fellow legislators to consider the report when making policy decisions.

The analysis by the Florida House suggested the state’s COVID-19 death toll may be inflated by as much as ten percent.

It looked at death certificates and found nearly 60 percent had errors or were recorded out of line with state and national guidance.

Based on the latest statistics, a ten percent inflation would mean the Department of Health over counted by about 1,400 deaths.

Republican Representative Randy Fine, who has recovered from a battle with COVID-19, said a ten percent discrepancy is actually reassuring.

“The Speaker’s work sort of demonstrates that the numbers are largely right.I mean if it was 1,200 instead of 12,000 you might go, ‘oh wow’. But you know, being off by ten percent, it’s still a huge effect and it’s still something we have to take seriously,” said Rep. Fine.

Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith criticized the House Speaker for focusing House resources on nitpicking death certificates and not on what he considers more pressing issues.

“Fixing our broken unemployment system, expanding Medicaid to people who have lost their job and have no health insurance, small business relief to family-owned operations that have closed their doors forever. The Florida Legislature has done zero,” said Rep. Smith.

The Legislature has not convened since the pandemic began in March.

They won’t return to the Capitol until their organizational session two weeks after the election.

We reached out to House Speaker Jose Oliva to ask about the House analysis, but did not receive a response.

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2020 a Record Year for Gun Sales

October 13th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Firearm purchase background checks conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show a record number of Floridians are taking up arms this year.

Gun industry insiders told us civil unrest and the election have created a perfect storm for increased demand.

More than 1.1 million background checks have been conducted since the start of 2020.

With two an half months left to go in the year, it’s already smashed the previous record set in 2016.

“We’ve seen a unprecedented number of people coming and buying guns,” said Charlie Strickland, owner of Talon Tactical Outfitters in Midway Florida.

Strickland said it’s not necessarily typical gun buyers stocking up.

“Huge numbers of minorities and women and those numbers are growing,” said Strickland.

He said a combination of civil unrest, threats to law enforcement funding and the election are the primary factors for the uptick.

“The increase in concern has caused a lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum; we see a lot of people who are very liberal on a lot of subjects that are in here buying guns to protect themselves,” said Strickland.

Republican State Senator Dennis Baxley shares the same feelings, particularly on the election issue.

“When you have a candidate that’s up there declaring, ‘I’m going to take your guns’ you know you better buy some now while you can,” said Baxley.

People aren’t just buying more guns.

They’re also paying for training.

More than 80,000 have applied for concealed carry permits since the start of the year.

“Our training classes are booked out for months in advance and people are coming in wanting to learn how to use, not just buy guns, learning how to use the firearms within the laws,” said Strickland. “That’s a good thing for all of us.”

Whether gun purchases continue to rise or fall may rest on the outcome of election.

If Biden wins, the industry anticipates a surge of panic buying.

If Trump wins, there could also be a spike, if civil unrest continues.

Strickland also noted the pandemic has limited the supply of guns and ammunition, which may also be contributing to the increased demand and would likely persist no matter the outcome of the election.

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Hail Mary Lawsuit Challenges Amendment 3

October 13th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

The incoming Republican Speaker of the House and a powerful Democratic State Senator are taking the unusual step of asking the Florida Supreme Court to remove Amendment 3 from the November ballot.

The amendment, know as ‘All Voters Vote’ would effectively end primary elections as we know them.

The lawmakers are raising concerns the amendment would negatively impact minority candidates.

Florida Democrats are blanketing voters mail boxes across the state, urging a no vote on Amendment 3.

The amendment would allow all voters to vote in primaries, with the top two candidates advancing to November.

In Sept, Florida’s black caucus first raised concerns the amendment would derail Black candidates.

“Impacting minority representation greatly in Tallahassee,” said Rep. Randolph Bracy.

When the Amendment was before Florida’s Supreme Court, both political parties opposed it.

In the court’s March opinion it said the amendment was fit for the ballot.

”It’s a political roulette wheel. No on knows what elections would look like under this new system,” said Speaker Designate of the Florida House Rep. Chris Sprowls.

Srowls and Democratic State Senator Janet Cruz are backing a law suit.

It asks the high court to order votes for Amendment 3 not be counted, arguing the court should now consider the issue of Black representation.

“It would be very unlikely that any African, and Florida Senate district would be able to elect an African American Senator,” said Cruz.

The lawsuit comes as the All Voters Vote releases its first ad.

And the campaign told us the law suit ignores the impact of adding 3.6 million non party voters.

“And the message to them is no thanks. Unless you join our party, we don’t want to hear from you. I think that’s shameful,” said Glen Burhans, Chair of All Voters Vote. “Their arguments today reeked of fear.”

And the campaign said polls show the amendment too close to call.

If the amendment receives 60 percent of the vote, elections would not change until the 2024 August Primary.

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Appellate Court Upholds School Reopening Order

October 12th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

A Florida appellate court has sided with the state on the lawsuit aimed at overturning the requirement for schools to reopen in-class learning.

The Florida Education Association attempted to block the Department of Education’s reopening order, which required schools to provide in class learning or receive less funding.

“It wasn’t about closing schools, keeping schools closed. It was about local control,” said FEA President Andrew Spar.

The appellate court not only said the teachers union had no standing to bring the suit, but also rejected its arguments against the state’s order.

It said districts did in fact have the final say on how and when to reopen.

“School districts could have chosen not to do it, that is correct. And they would have had their funding adjusted the way it would be adjusted under any other normal year if they didn’t offer brick and mortar classrooms,” said Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association Andrea Messina.

The ruling comes as a new study out of Brown University has suggested schools aren’t the super spreaders many had feared.

The study looking at more than 1,200 schools across the country found infection rates among students and staff are well below one percent.

School boards are taking the study with a grain of salt.

“I can find studies that will tell you both sides, but being safe and being cautious and being careful and monitoring the situation, there’s no substitute for those things,” said Messina.

And the union intends to push forward with its lawsuit.

“We believe the appellate court got it wrong, but we still believe the commissioner believes he can overstep his authority as an appointed bureaucrat and override locally elected school boards, elected by parents and community leaders. Let’s not forget that,” said Spar. “As a parent myself, I want my child to be safe and I want to know that they’re safe when they go to school.”

The union said it will ask for a hearing before the full appellate court, but it’s likely the case will ultimately be decided by the State Supreme Court.

According to the latest numbers provided by the state, no K-12 school has reported more than 50 cases.

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Insiders Prepare for Election Malfunction

October 12th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Concern that there may not be a decision election night is putting a new focus on congressional elections in Florida and elsewhere.

If neither Presidential candidate receives 270 electoral votes, the ultimate decision would be up to the U.S. House or Representatives.

Florida has 14 Republican members of the US House and 13 Democrats.

“That is really significant if no candidate gets 270 electoral college votes, and then the election of the President kicks in to the U.S.House of Representatives,” said retired USF political scientist Susan MacManus.

Two of the state’s 27 seats seem to be in play.

HD 15 in Polk, where the incumbent lost a primary.

“And it is seen by Democrats as the biggest likelihood for a pick up by a Democrat,” said MacManus.

But the most vulnerable is HD 26 held by Democrat Debbie Marscel Powell.

She’s facing a strong challenge from Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Giminez.

Florida Republicans are putting on a full court press.

“You get one vote, and around the country now, it’s 26-24 in terms of states that have majority Republican delegations. And that makes the House of Representatives more important than ever,” said US Rep. Michael Waltz.

Not since 1824 has the US House decided who would be president when it chose John Quincy Adams, who lost the popular vote over Andrew Jackson.

He served just one term, and Jackson was elected President in 1828.

“Everything seems to be a long shot. It’s just one of the most unpredictable Presidential contests,” said MacManus.

It almost happened in 2000.

The Florida House went so far as to name GOP electors just incase Florida’s election outcome and the outcome of the race was still tied up in court.

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Florida Republicans Call for Investigation into Democrats’ PPP Loan

October 9th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Five Florida Congressmen are calling for an investigation into the pandemic relief loan secured by the Florida Democratic Party in May.

It is still not known who signed off on the application for the loan, and the Republican Congressmen believe criminal charges could be warranted.

Republicans have used the $780,000 PPP loan secured by the Florida Democratic Party in local and national attack ads.

After months of not receiving a full explanation of how the loan was secured, they’re now calling on the Small Business Administration to investigate.

“The bottom line is the American people and Floridians deserve transparency,” said Congressman Michael Waltz.

Waltz and four other Republican Congressman in Florida are leading the charge.

“If there’s a reasonable explanation let’s hear it and if there needs to be accountability let’s see it,” said Waltz.

Most important, Waltz said, is determining who signed off on the application.

“And I would find it very difficult to believe that the senior leadership of the Florida Democratic Party didn’t approve this loan, know that it was going out,” said Waltz.

We’ve been asking for months, but The Democratic Party of Florida has so far refused to release the loan application.

The state’s highest ranking Democrat, Agriculture Commission Nikki Fried told us several weeks ago she’s satisfied with explanations given to her by the party.

“They returned the money and they have realized that that was a mistake to have applied for it to begin with,” said Fried.

Waltz said the public deserves to hear that explanation.

“It’s their money. It’s not her money,” said Waltz.

Financial records show the Democratic Party did pay back the loan it received.

Waltz argued that doesn’t undo any potential wrongdoing.

Lying on a PPP loan application is a felony carrying up to five years in prison and or a $250,000 fine.

We reached out to the Democratic Party of Florida for comment on this story and requested a copy of the original loan application.

We did not receive a response.

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Registration Decision Expected Soon

October 8th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

After a two and a half hour telephone hearing Thursday morning, the question of whether Florida should extend its voter registration is in the hands of a Federal Judge.

The judge is weighing whether an extension will cause more harm than good in the long run.

Statistics provided by the state comparing final day registrations in 2018 against this year suggest 21,722 more people might have registered if the system hadn’t crashed.

“The state agrees with Judge walker on the record that the state received fewer numbers that would have otherwise been expected, even after re-opening it back up again,” said Senior Attorney for the Advancement Project Jorge Vasquez.

Voting groups suing the state had wanted another full day of registration, with a day to get ready.

“And to make sure there is enough opportunity to at least get on the radio, provide campaign ads, things like that to let the community know what their rights are,” said Vasquez.

Judge Mark Walker pointed out the state announced at noon Tuesday it was resuming registrations immediately, then asked why it wasn’t announced at noon and opened at 5 PM till midnight, the same hours it was down.

“Certainly we know that the portals for the most part were down between five to midnight,” said Vasquez.

In the state’s larger counties, steady streams of voters are delivering their mail ballots.

Those votes are already being counted.

Leon Supervisor Mark Earley said his office has never been this busy so far from election day.

“No. Just plain old no. This is good,” said Earley.

Earley and Okaloosa Supervisor Paul Lux both filed affidavits warning if registration were reopened would overload their already busy offices and confuse voters.

The Judge is expected to rule Thursday afternoon or evening.

He said he would not entertain a stay, opening the way for whomever loses to immediately file an appeal.

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DEO Recoups Unemployment Checks, Democrats Propose Reforms

October 8th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says it wrongly or over paid unemployment benefits to Floridians and is now attempting to recoup the money.

Florida Democrats are condemning the Department’s actions and have unveiled their plan to fix the state’s unemployment system ahead of the 2021 legislative session.

DEO won’t reveal how much money it incorrectly paid out, or how many people are being asked to pay back their unemployment benefits.

Democrats in a virtual press conference Thursday said the Department should be focusing its energy elsewhere.

“1.992 million people that still have not gotten an answer, not gotten paid. This is completely unacceptable,” said State Senator Annette Taddeo.

In the press conference, Democrats unveiled their plan to improve the system.

“We’re trying to set the bar as to what we ought to do as a state with our unemployment system,” said State Senator Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Their bill would raise weekly benefits from a max of $275 to $500 and increase the number of eligible weeks from 12 to 26.

“That would put us roughly a little bit above average in terms of how we would compare with other states. So it’s not that ambitious a goal,” said Rodriguez.

Democrats’ plan would also allow self employed and gig workers to receive benefits.

It also would expand eligibility to people who leave their jobs due to illness, domestic violence, changes in their schedule, extended commutes and unsafe or unhealthy work environments.

“We want to make sure that this is fair for everyone, fair for the employees, and we want to provide the guidance on ‘good cause’,” said State Senator Lori Berman.

The bill also requires DEO to make a determination on a person’s eligibility within three weeks of applying for unemployment and creates an ombudsman position at DEO, that would be responsible for streamlining the unemployment system.

Despite a plague of issues at the start of the pandemic, DEO has paid more than $17 billion in unemployment this year.

Last year, the number was just over 300 million.

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