Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday that a state task force will meet Friday to begin developing a phased-in program to identify which sectors of the state’s economy, and which regions, will be able to reopen first.
“We’re going to have the first meeting tomorrow,” the governor said during a daily briefing. “We need to be ready to get back to work.”
He added that task force members will be hearing from a range of business leaders and elected officials, along with public health specialists.
“I think we’re going to be able to come up with a thoughtful approach that will allow folks to get back to work,” he explained. “And hopefully mitigate some of the economic damage that’s been done. So that will be something we will be working on around the clock for the next few days and hopefully we will have a plan very soon on that.”
The governor said the panel will examine “silos,” including topics such as restaurants, large events, non-essential businesses, and protective measures. The panel could recommend a regional approach, where COVID-19 hot spots like Southeast Florida may reopen for business later than other parts of the state.
The recommendations are expected on his desk within a week.
“It’s not going to be something that’s going to take four weeks,” the governor said. “This is something within a three to five day period I want the best ideas we can get.”
Faced with an unprecedented amount of unemployment claims over the past few weeks, Gov. DeSantis also said Thursday he is hoping to help Floridians get much-needed money from the state.
“Ultimately, we need to get people paid,” the governor said. “That’s gotta be the number one priority.”
DeSantis explained that the state’s new mobile-friendly Pega website where Floridians can submit unemployment claims has been overwhelmed.
He added that a provision in state law requires jobless residents to re-certify that they are still unemployed every two weeks, putting the system under greater stress.
Here’s a message to Floridians who are fighting every day to combat #COVID19.
We can, and we will, get through this together. https://t.co/BBOXa4zDCD
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 15, 2020
To that end, DeSantis signed an executive order on Thursday which suspends the requirement for residents to re-certify their unemployment status.
“From what the technicians told me, that will relieve some stress on the system,” he stated. “This will hopefully free up some space to move some more claims through.”
The governor said that since last month, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity has provided more than 121,000 payments to Floridians, totaling almost $50 million.
However, the state unemployment system processed only 33,623 of the estimated 850,000 applications it has received since the COVID-19 pandemic began, said John Satter, the new head of the system.
“It’s not nearly enough,” DeSantis said. “We have an unprecedented amount of claims, and we’ve got to get through them.”
Gov. DeSantis announced on Wednesday that Satter, who was the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Management Services, was taking over immediately to help improve processes for those who are filing.
The DEO had set a goal of processing 80,000 applications last week. Despite receiving 100 new servers, and having 1,000 state employees shifted over to help expedite processing, only about four percent of the applications have been processed to date.
In addition, more than 180,000 residents filed unemployment claims last week.
Gov. DeSantis also said a state task force will meet on Friday to determine which sectors of the state’s economy will be able to reopen soon.
He did not release the names of those who are on the panel, nor did he provide details about the agenda for Friday’s discussion.
One possibility he mentioned is restarting elective surgeries. The topic came up during a call on Thursday with President Trump and other state governors, DeSantis said.
“It’s not going to 100% like it was prior but we have to get on that road to recovery,” he added.
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 23,340 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, including 668 deaths.