I do not think Trump and state and local policymakers fully understand what they have done to American households financially by extending this shutdown for at least a month. I certainly do not think they appreciate the very powerful rage Americans feel about it. Maybe after unemployment claims surge beyond 20 million cumulatively (possibly by next week) they will get a clue.
To say I am disappointed in GOP strategy lately doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Seeing things play out on the ground in Florida, I suspect Trump is taking a meaningful hit to his popularity, even in wildly conservative districts (like the one I live in). This shutdown is likely going to end in Trump losing his new home state of Florida in November, which mathematically means he’ll likely lose the entire election and be a one-term president.
It may very well bring an end to DeSantis’ political career too. He only won the state by something like 34,000 votes in the first place – and he was running against a relatively young Democratic Socialist who was being investigated for bribery and who was just found in a Miami hotel with a male escort and three bags of meth. DeSantis needed to build colossal goodwill as governor, and until March, I thought he had done exactly that. Maybe he can reverse that, but who knows?
As predicted, when DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order, employers rapidly started laying off employees. So many people have been laid off or furloughed in Florida that the system for filing unemployment claims has crashed and cannot be resurrected. Staffers have started accepting paper applications via snail mail because it is taking weeks to get someone on the phone.
Unemployment claims are a very big deal in Florida. Former Governor Rick Scott (now Senator Rick Scott) created an unemployment system that was quite deliberately designed to fail and punishes people who are suddenly out of work. He had no interest in establishing a website functionally capable of processing even a modest number of claims. When discouraged people gave up on filing claims, it artificially made his negative data seem small. It’s sort of like manipulating coronavirus testing to make infections seem less widespread. People only see what policymakers want them to see.
Florida also has one of the lowest levels of unemployment support in the nation, providing a maximum of $275 a week in assistance. I am a die-hard fiscal conservative, and I will still concede that is scandalous. Although DeSantis paired his order with a 45-day ban on evictions, it’s not difficult to see how the state’s most vulnerable populations are screwed, even with the enhanced assistance from the federal government. Florida is not an inexpensive place to live!
In February, Florida had 9 million people in the workforce and a 2.8% unemployment rate. Nearly 400,000 Floridians filed unemployment claims in the past two weeks – before DeSantis’ shutdown even went into effect – and there’s no way to quantify the number of people who have been attempting to file claims but failed because Scott trashed the system. Most of these claims are related to the closure of restaurants, bars, and resorts across the state. The next wave of unemployment will not be centered only on tourism.
A landslide of new claims is indeed coming, as everything but non-essential businesses have been ordered to close. Disney announced yesterday that it was furloughing all non-union staff. Many white-collar workers are starting to get laid off.
Even hospitals across the state have started furloughing doctors and staff. Yes – hospitals, during a health care crisis. Sarasota Memorial Hospital, which currently has a couple dozen people hospitalized for the coronavirus, cut staff after hospital revenues fell by $16 million. This revenue loss was mostly due to Governor DeSantis suspending all elective procedures. Surgeries fell by 50% at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and the number of inpatients fell by 30%.
From what I gather, that is the story of most hospitals across the country right now. They have no new procedures booked as they have all been ordered to standby and wait for some projected surge tied to the pandemic. People are posting pictures of mostly empty hospitals all over social media. If the surge in cases does not materialize at the levels projected, state and local governments have likely destabilized their health care systems financially going forward. These dire projections about coronavirus infections are definitely high-stakes policy matters.
When a workforce of 9 million decreases by 1 million jobs, which is quite plausible at this point, everyone is going to notice. And it’s probably not going to stop there. I think Trump and DeSantis are underestimating how long it is going to take to recover from the destruction of demand that entails.
“This is horrible for people. I don’t want to minimize that,” one DeSantis adviser told POLITICO. “But if we have to look past the crisis, it’s bad for the president and it’s bad for the governor.”
“Everyone we talk to in that office when we ask them what happened tells us, ‘the system was designed to fail,’” the adviser said. “That’s not a problem when unemployment is 2.8 percent, but it’s a problem now. And no system we have can handle 25,000 people a day.”
State auditors have routinely chronicled shortcomings with the CONNECT system, most recently in a report issued in March 2019, two months after DeSantis took office.
Scott spokesperson Chris Hartline did not directly address complaints about the CONNECT system. But he said Scott acted to ensure the state helped only those “who truly needed the assistance.”
“His goal was to make sure every Floridian who wanted a job could get one, and turned the program into a re-employment system so people could find employment,” Hartline said in an email. “As governor, he made investments to ensure the system worked and Florida’s unemployment insurance program is funded at record levels thanks to reforms under Governor Scott, meaning more Florida families can receive the help they need.”
Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat who as a Republican governor led Florida through the last downturn, said the state’s current economic catastrophe could doom Trump in the state the president needs if he wants to win reelection.
“If unemployment continues to go up, and if so many people stay unemployed, it’s a nightmare for the president in this state,” Crist said. “I should know. When I was governor and I was running for the Senate in the Great Recession — and there was nothing great about it — it was a nightmare.”
An adviser to Marco Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign didn’t argue.
“We’ve got unemployed, pissed-off people. They can’t get benefits. And when they get them, it’s not going to be enough,” he said. “They’re there for the taking by the Democrats. We killed Charlie with the bad economy in 2010. Democrats are gonna repay the favor.”
Unemployment claims in Florida continued surging Thursday — as did frustrations among the newly jobless who have struggled for weeks to file for financial relief amidst the coronavirus outbreak that has crippled the state’s economy and sidelined much of its workforce….
Among many of Florida’s unemployed, staying home is a given. Jay Mendez got laid off from his accounting firm three weeks ago and also lost his part-time restaurant gig. He wakes to an alarm every morning reminding him to call the unemployment office as he hopes this time to successfully file his claim — some days he’s had 100 unsuccessful attempts.
“There’s no getting through, and to this day I still haven’t gotten through,” he said. Now without work, he said, “I have nothing else to do.”
He could cover this month’s $1,450 rent for his one-bedroom apartment, but he said not much else.
“No one wants to use their savings for these things,” said Mendez 32….
Lisa Wright, a 56-year-old newly unemployed software development consultant from Fort Lauderdale, deferred car and mortgage payments and charged her health care premium on her credit card.
“I’m trying to conserve my cash, because I don’t know how long this is going to be,” she said.
She has been unable to file her unemployment claim, she said, because she’s been locked out of the state’s website and can’t get help.
“This should be so simple,” she said. Phone lines have mostly been busy. When she does get through, the call eventually disconnects before she gets help.
“No one can get the benefits if we can’t get through,” she said.