For years the state, under Republican leadership, has rolled back its unemployment program to become one of the most unforgiving and stingiest places in the country to be without full-time employment — the intended outcome of former Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) push to limit local businesses' unemployment tax burdens at the expense of program participants themselves. It was a crushing system rendered even worse by coronavirus, which this spring unleashed a wave of unemployment applications, stressing the already anemic system past its breaking point in one of the more egregious examples of how ill-equipped our society was to handle the catastrophic economic fall out of the ongoing pandemic.
What is new, however, is Florida's current governor, Ron DeSantis, admitting that his state's unemployment program was specifically designed to be as onerous and labyrinthine as possible, in the hopes that the very people the system was theoretically created to serve would become so frustrated by the application process that they would simply give up trying to receive benefits at all.
In an interview with CBS Miami on Tuesday, DeSantis — a Republican — described Florida's abysmal unemployment program as riddled with "pointless roadblocks" intended to prompt applicants to "just say, 'Oh, the hell with it, I’m not going to do that.'"
"I think that was the animating philosophy," DeSantis admitted.
DeSantis's comments come just days after one of his advisers told Politico that the system was "a shit sandwich, and it was designed that way by Scott."
"It wasn’t about saving money," the adviser continued. "It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about." (Said another DeSantis adviser in a moment of brazenly craven political triangulation: "This is horrible for people. I don’t want to minimize that. But if we have to look past the crisis, it’s bad for the president and it's bad for the governor.")
"I’m not sure if it was [Scott's intention]" to design such a shoddy program, DeSantis told CBS Miami, using the sort of crafty rhetorical construction politicians use when they want to amplify a sentiment while retaining the ability to say they didn't explicitly endorse it. But he continued: "I think definitely in terms of how it was internally constructed, you know, it was definitely done in a way to lead to the least number of claims being paid out."
DeSantis then immediately refused to take responsibility for not having fixed the mess Scott left when he left the governor's mansion in 2019, well before the coronavirus pandemic laid bare just how cruel and unprepared the system truly was.
When asked about a state government audit that allegedly described a number of the "pointless roadblocks" DeSantis had decried just moments earlier, the governor was quick to wipe his hands of the report entirely, telling CBS Miami, "That was an audit that was given to the agency head. Nothing ever reached my desk. I was not asked to do anything."
"I wasn’t asked to seek more funding from the legislature," he added. "If I was, I probably would have done it."
That's probably little comfort for the Floridians whose lives have been turned upside down by unemployment, and who, when they needed the most help from their state, were directed to a system essentially designed to leave them so despondent that they'd simply stop trying.