A judge granted a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the State of Florida and its unemployment benefit system operators on Wednesday.
The lawsuit had been filed by attorneys representing Floridians who are awaiting their unemployment payments due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The hearing was held by phone and through a virtual meeting.
Attorneys for the state told Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey about steps that officials have taken to get the problematic CONNECT system working and processing payments and applications.
One of the attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida law does not have provisions for residents to receive immediate checks. She added there are numerous state and federal requirements that must be met in order to avoid fraud.
“We are doing the best we can with the system and the resources we have,” she explained. “It’s not as fast as we would like, it’s not as fast as you would like.”
On the other hand, attorney Gautier Kitchen, who represents the residents, suggested the state pay everyone and confirm unemployment later, adding that the DEO is “deterring, delaying and denying. They can pay and chase just like they do with Medicare.”
DeSantis has previously called the CONNECT system a “clunker” that was not designed to withstand any type of surge in usage.
As of May 5, @FLDEO has paid 481,497 claimants a total of more than $1.017 billion. https://t.co/6wxlTUaZ6K#ReemploymentAssistance pic.twitter.com/qMg9bkB6c5
— Florida DEO (@FLDEO) May 6, 2020
Kitchen quoted the governor on those statements while making his plea to the judge.
“They had their shot at this, too little, too late, something has to be done, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot fix the system,” he said, adding, “Fifty years ago we put a man on the moon but we can’t enroll people in an unemployment system.”
Dempsey ultimately said she had no choice but to grant the state’s request, adding that she does not “have the authority to rewrite the statute or to create a whole new pay and chase system.”
The DEO dashboard states that more than $1 billion has been paid to claimants as of Wednesday, which translates to at least one payment being sent to 481,487 people. In addition, more than 1.1 million people in the state have filled for unemployment benefits since mid-March.
Gov. DeSantis this week asked the inspector general to investigate the $77.9 million contract under which the CONNECT site was built seven years ago.