MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Gov. Ron DeSantis is acknowledging for the first time that the state unemployment system was deliberately designed to frustrate people, making it so difficult for them to apply for benefits that they would give up and just not get paid.
The revelation came during DeSantis' one-on-one with CBS4's Jim DeFede, which was the governor's first sit-down interview since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
In addition to talking about unemployment, they also discussed mail-in voting, the need for a vaccine, returning to work and more.
DeSantis: From the end of the third week, third, fourth week of March through most of April, you know, we were in really dire straits with that system. So I do think we should get the results of the IG. And then, if there needs to be some type of suit or some type of accountability, we absolutely need to do it. I mean, my thing is like a lot of these unemployment systems throughout the country, you know, weren't very good, but a lot of them were like 40, 50 years old. Ours wasn't really old. I mean, ours was really five, six years ago. And it should have been done better for that price tag to produce better results.
DeFede: Do you believe that the system was in part put together the way it was to discourage people from being able to collect unemployment?
DeSantis: I think that was the animating philosophy. I mean having studied how it was internally constructed, I think the goal was for whoever designed, it was, 'Let's put as many kind of pointless roadblocks along the way, so people just say, oh, the hell with it, I'm not going to do that.' And, you know, for me, let's decide on what the benefit is and let's get it out as efficiently as possible. You know, we shouldn't necessarily do these roadblocks to do it. So we have cleared a lot of those. And I waived a lot of the letter requirements through executive order. But I think going forward, I want all our systems, including unemployment, to be user friendly. And it was not user friendly.
DeFede: Well, that system was designed and implemented during the Rick Scott administration. Do you think that was Rick Scott's intention, was to discourage people from applying for benefits?
DeSantis: I'm not sure if it was his, but 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.
DeFede: Now, there was an audit that came out in 2019, I believe, that pointed out many of the flaws. Should you be held responsible for not having acted on that audit and corrected the system?
DeSantis: Well, so 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. If I was, I probably would have done it. But I looked at that audit and, honestly, that that does not answer really the systemic flaws that was advanced with this saying. And so even if those things were done and they should have been done by the agency, we still would have had the same problems.
WATCH CBS4 EXCLUSIVE: Jim DeFede's Full 1-On-1 Interview With Gov. Ron DeSantis
VOTE BY MAIL
DeFede: Do you have any problems with vote by mail in the state of Florida?
DeSantis: Well, see, I think this is important because I think there's a confusion. In Florida, if you want to vote by mail, you request, you call the supervisor, you send an email, you submit a form and then they send it to you. I think the places where we've seen real problems, where it's just indiscriminate mail ballots being sent everywhere, flooding, regardless of whether you've asked for it or not. We do not have that in Florida. I do not support going to that model in Florida. I do think the model we have where you can request, you don't have to be sick or out, you just, you know, no, no excuse absentee. I think that that's been successful and I think that it's had integrity.
DeFede: We've seen problems in some local elections in South Florida where, you know, with the virus, you may have trouble getting people into polling locations and staffing the polling locations. Should you be encouraging, will you be encouraging people to actually take advantage of vote by mail?
DeSantis: Well, they should do that. But we also know there's a lot of voters who want to vote in person. I mean, that's just the reality. So we have made preparations to augment any of the poll workers and the staffing should there be shortfalls… I told the secretary of state and we have a lot of people ready on the ground. So, yes, request your ballot. You'll get it. It's safe. And every Floridian should know that. But if you do want to vote in person, we are going to make sure the polls are open.
DeFede: Have you given any thought to, for instance, more vulnerable populations? Should preference be given to African-American, Hispanic communities, farm workers, for instance, and those sorts of things, as opposed to folks who may otherwise be healthy? Have you given any thought at all to the issue of the vaccine and how it will be distributed?
DeSantis: Certainly, elderly should be first in line without question. And then other people who have some of the key medical conditions should be first in line. And I think that's regardless of community and that should be the case. So people have asked me like, 'Oh, you know, you're going to get like the vaccine first.' No, I'm going to defer. Those folks should be first in line, you know, not me. And so that's really where we're going to focus.
DeFede: Should immigration status play any role on whether or not a person gets it?
DeFede's hour-long interview with Gov. DeSantis also covered raising the unemployment wage, his handling of the crisis, evaluating the return of workers using a "symptom-based approach" and more.
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