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Florida Installs More Servers for Overloaded Jobs Website

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that the state is taking exhaustive steps to address widespread state website problems that have prevented thousands from applying for unemployment benefits, though many say the system is still broken.


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There are also indications that some may still have to go several weeks before knowing the status of their application, as the governor also hasn’t decided whether benefits will be distributed retroactively. 

DeSantis said recent actions should allow the state to speed up processing of applications by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the unemployment program. Its jobs site was taken offline overnight Sunday for improvements.

FDOE Executive Director Ken Lawson said the agency is seeing a historic level of applications. More than 520,000 unemployment applications have been filed just since March 15, compared with the 326,653 filed over the entire year of 2019, Lawson said. 

Florida tries to fix application problems

Since the surge of unemployment applications, the Department of Economic Opportunity has reportedly spent more than $25 million trying to address the application process riddled with problems. 

DeSantis said among those efforts, the state is reassigning 2,000 state employees and hiring more staff to help process applications and man the agency’s call centers.

“There are major problems with the website — problems with how it is designed was pointed out — but that’s not the issue,” DeSantis said. “It’s a capacity issue.”

Over the weekend, the state also installed 72 servers, which DeSantis said will allow 120,000 simultaneous connections on the state’s website by individuals filing claims, which is more than the 60,000 connections the original 10 servers could handle.

“The flood to the website… The website couldn’t even handle it, so in the situation where people have lost jobs, looking for relief and having difficulty, some people are on the site, it would time out and go hours and hours on end. It was totally unacceptable,” DeSantis said. 

However, problems persist, and a backlog of applications continues to grow. 

Lawson said Monday that the agency is hoping to process 80,000 claims by the end of the week, leaving hundreds of thousands of applications pending. It will likely be weeks before that can be accomplished. 

Website problems remain

Even as DeSantis and Lawson remained optimistic that the problems will be worked out in coming days, some tell Spectrum News that problems still exist. 

The most prevalent issues seem to be an online application process that cycles through the same questions or suddenly restarts. 

“I was ready to throw my computer against the wall,” Dawn Campbell joked. 

She has tried for more than three weeks to help her daughter submit an unemployment application after she was furloughed from her restaurant job in Ormond Beach. 

“Nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing changed,” Campbell said. 

Campbell said even after a weekend maintenance shutdown of the website, she didn’t notice much change in how the site functioned Monday. One issue, she said, is that despite the state temporarily waiving the requirement to prove that an applicant is searching for a new job, the website doesn’t allow you to skip that section without entering information. Questions about being impacted by COVID-19 come at the end of the online application, when they should come at the beginning, critics say.

“Two or three hours a day trying to call… I’ve sent numerous emails with no response, and it’s just unendingly frustrating,” said Tonya Olson, who has been trying to apply for unemployment after stay-at-home orders effectively shut down her mobile physical therapy practice.

In Olson’s case, she hasn’t been able to get through to the state’s call center to reset her PIN. 

“If they would just share some information,” she said. “At the end of the day I think (it’s important) for us to know we’re not alone and just to have confidence.” 

Because of the troubles with the online website, DEO over the weekend encouraged people to print a paper application, fill it out, and mail it in.

When asked about the system maintenance and ongoing issues, Lawson said his best advice was to keep trying. 

“We have increased capacity where we added an addition 72 servers and increased the speed, so I’ll ask to try again and apply,” Lawson said. “If that doesn’t work, fill out a paper application. But the bottom line is what I’ve seen is increased capacity over the last 48 hours. Yesterday (Sunday), 62,000 applications came through. This morning (Monday), 22,000 came through, that shows you the investment in the system is working.”

Retroactive benefits not guaranteed

DeSantis has stopped short of committing to paying benefits retroactively, based on a person’s end of unemployment as opposed to when they applied. 

“I told them (state agency directors) to look at that, because if it’s no fault of their own trying to get in the system, and the system is crashing… It frustrated people,” DeSantis said.

Federal unemployment benefits differ

The Department of Economic Opportunity will be tasked with distributing federal unemployment benefits to Floridians, a process that DEO Director Lawson said Monday that the agency is still working to develop. Lawson said the agency is hoping to have a system in place by the end of the week to help distribute the $600 weekly payments the federal government is providing through the federal coronavirus aid bill, also called the CARES Act. 

The federal legislation is likely to further boost the number of applications, as it has more allowances than Florida, such as “gig economy” workers like Uber and Lyft drivers, as well as those who are self-employed. 

Although Florida’s state unemployment system does not provide benefits to gig economy and self-employed individuals, the federal assistance does provide some, meaning people in those lines of work who qualify will have to apply through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in order to obtain the federal benefits. 

Long-term future fixes needed

Like COVID-19 testing, unemployment numbers are not thought to be in real time. Future unemployment numbers are expected to grow, as well as the state’s unemployment rate beyond what had been Florida’s 2.8%. 

Lawmakers have already been critical of the state’s response, saying former Gov. Rick Scott designed an unemployment system to fail, which DeSantis ignored. The current system was implemented under Scott prior to 2014 at a cost of more than $66 million. A 2019 auditor general report outlined hundreds of issues with the CONNECT system. 

Democratic state Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith have been among those saying drastic improvements will be needed, as well as a renewed conversation on how the state may fund long-term unemployment programs. 

State economic analysts are expected to release their assessment on how much the state collectively is losing because of the COVID-19 virus and subsequent business closures. 

One part in addressing the state’s unemployment program will likely also be the payout amount. At $275 per week for 12 weeks, Florida has one of the lowest benefit payouts and shortest periods of any U.S. state.

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Sun 8:45 p.m.: Youngstown mayor orders curfew | News, Sports, Jobs

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Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown as of 8:30 p.m. Sunday declared a civil emegency and ordered a curfew in the city as a result of “mob action and other civil disobedience.”

Reports had large crowds gathering around dusk surrounding police cruisers at the corner of Market and Boardman streets in downtown Youngstown.

Earlier in the day, two separate rallies in the downtown netted minor incidents including the breaking of windows at Choffin Career Center and the United Way office off Wood Street.

Then reports of a large crowd in the Wick Park area had prompted businesses to close on their own on the Belmont Avenue strip of Liberty Township, according to Sgt. Ray Buhala of the Liberty Police Department.

Brown’s curfew order, which includes the closing of all businesses and all city streets to motor vehicles and pedestrians except for emergency vehicles, shall remain in effect for 12 hours.

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Two new COVID-19 cases in Marshall County | News, Sports, Jobs

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DES MOINES — Marshall County only had two additional case of COVID-19 during the last 24 hours.

As of Sunday, Marshall County has 894 cases of COVID-19, a rise of two cases.

Marshall County dropped to sixth highest Iowa counties with COVID-19 cases. The other counties with higher numbers are Polk with 4,228; Woodbury, 2,750; Black Hawk, 1,746; Linn, 955; and Dallas, 903.

Overall Iowa had an increase of 385 bringing the state’s total number of cases to 19,551.

Of those, 11,111 have recovered.

Also, 534 Iowans have died from COVID-19 and 16 of those deaths were residents of Marshall County.

Marshall County makes up 3 percent of the state’s COVID-19 related deaths and 4.5 percent of Iowa’s total confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Marshall County is one the top ten states with the highest number of COVID-19 related tests. The counties tied or with more deaths are Polk with 126 deaths, Linn with 77 deaths, Black Hawk with 44 deaths, Muscatine 41 deaths, Woodbury with 34 deaths, Tama with 27 deaths, Dallas with 21 deaths, Dubuque with 18 deaths and Jasper with 16 deaths.

Marshall County has two recorded outbreaks in long-term care facilities. The Iowa Veterans Home has had 33 positive cases of COVID-19, with 16 recovered and Accura HealthCare of Marshalltown has had 55 cases, with 21 recovered.

In Iowa 156,713 people have been tested for COVID-19 with about 5 percent of Iowa’s population having been tested.

Across the state, 561,610 Test Iowa assessments have been conducted – 2,010 in Marshall County.

A public hotline has been established for questions about COVID-19 in Iowa. It is available 24/7 by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.

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Tensions High Over Protests Upstate, Downstate | News, Sports, Jobs

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The mayor in Rochester declared a state of emergency and a 9 p.m. curfew after demonstrators destroyed police cars, setting one on fire, and officers responded with tear gas canisters.

Albany police used tear gas and rode horses in efforts to quell demonstrators throwing objects. In Buffalo, numerous storefronts had their windows smashed and a person tried to start a fire in City Hall.

Downstate, the scene was even more tense.

Street protests spiraled into New York City’s worst day of unrest in decades Saturday, as fires burned, windows got smashed and dangerous confrontations between demonstrators and officers flared amid crowds of thousands decrying police killings.

A day that began with mostly peaceful marches through Harlem and neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens descended into chaos as night fell.

Demonstrators smashed windows, hurled objects at officers, torched and battered police vehicles and blocked roads with garbage and wreckage. A handful of stores in Manhattan had their windows broken and merchandise stolen.

Officers sprayed crowds with chemicals, and video showed two police cruisers lurching into a crowd of demonstrators on a Brooklyn street, knocking several to the ground, after people attacked it with thrown objects, including something on fire. It was unclear whether anyone was hurt.

It was the third straight day of protests in the city over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota, a remarkable outburst after most New Yorkers spent the past two months stuck inside as the coronavirus devastated the city. A night earlier, several thousand people faced off with a force of officers on the streets around a Brooklyn sports arena.

The NYPD said at least 120 people were arrested and at least 15 police vehicles damaged or destroyed.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, blamed the destruction on a small number of agitators who he said “do not represent this city” and were purposely trying to incite violence against police.

“We appreciate and respect all peaceful protest, but now it is time for people to go home,” de Blasio told reporters outside the city’s emergency management headquarters just after 11:30 p.m.

“What we’re seeing is people coming in from outside, a lot of them are purporting to speak about the issues of communities of color, but a lot of them are not from communities of color,” de Blasio said on the local cable news station NY1.

The protests in each city were all held in defiance of a statewide ban on gatherings imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is bigger than the pandemic,” said Brooklyn protester Meryl Makielski, referring to the outbreak that, until recently, was killing hundreds of New Yorkers each day. “The mistakes that are happening are not mistakes. They’re repeated violent terrorist offenses and people need to stop killing black people. Cops seem as though they’ve been trained to do so.”

Earlier in the day, de Blasio had expressed solidarity with demonstrators upset about police brutality, but promised an independent review of demonstrations Friday night in which a mob set fire to a police van and battered police cruisers with clubs and officers beat people with batons.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he had asked the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, to lead an inquiry and make a public report.

The mayor said he was upset by videos of confrontations “where protesters were handled very violently” by police, including one that showed a woman being needlessly thrown to the ground.

But he defended officers in the streets, saying they were being subjected “to horrible, vile things.” Of the video of officers driving into a crowd Saturday, de Blasio said it would be investigated, but that the officers acted because they were being attacked.

Violence early Saturday resulted in federal charges against three people suspected of building and throwing Molotov cocktails at police vehicles in two separate incidents in Brooklyn.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn said Samantha Shader, 27, of Catskill, New York, admitted under questioning to throwing her device at a van occupied by four officers. It did not ignite and the officers were unharmed, police said. Shader’s sister, Dorian, was also arrested and will face charges in state court, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said.

Colinford Mattis, 32, and Urooj Rahman, 31, both of Brooklyn, are accused of targeting a police van. They were charged under a federal statute regarding the use of fire and explosives to cause damage to a police vehicle and each face 5 to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Information on their lawyers was not immediately available.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said more than 200 people were arrested and multiple officers were injured in Friday night’s protests, including one who lost a tooth.

Asked to comment on videos that showed officers shoving peaceful protesters to the ground and hitting people with batons, Shea said those acts would be investigated.

But, he said, “It is very hard to practice de-escalation when there is a brick being thrown at your head.”

“It is by the grace of God that we don’t have dead officers today,” he said.

In a peaceful gathering Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Al Sharpton addressed several hundred people in Staten Island at the spot where Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer in 2014. He was accompanied by Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr.

Sharpton noted that Floyd, who died Monday in Minneapolis after an officer pressed his knee into his neck, had also fallen unconscious gasping for air.

“Right at this spot is where we heard Eric Garner say what six years later was said by George: ‘I can’t breathe.’”

Cuomo noted that Floyd’s death was just the latest in a long list of similar deaths, and he said he shared in the outrage over “this fundamental injustice.”

“But violence is not the answer. It never is the answer,” he said. “The violence obscures the righteousness of the message and the mission.”

___

Associated Press writers Karen Matthews, Jennifer Peltz, Michael R. Sisak, Tom Hays, Maria Sanminiatelli and Robert Bumsted in New York, Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, and John Wawrow in Buffalo contributed to this report.

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