Simple math tells a horrid story of unemployment claims in FL — but the state’s data isn’t easy to find

By: - May 28, 2020 2:07 pm

City of Hialeah employees hand out unemployment applications last year to people in their vehicles in front of the John F. Kennedy Library. The city distributed the printed unemployment forms as people continued to have problems with access to the state of Florida’s unemployment website. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Like the online “dashboard” for public health data during the COVID-19 crisis, the state is publishing another data set to let jobless Floridians know what’s going on with unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

The daily “Reemployment Assistance Claims Dashboard” shows some graphics and big numbers, such as “$3,630,798,771 paid to claimants.”

The data focuses closely on the number of claims received, processed and paid out, according to the dashboard launched by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

But what’s missing is a clear and full picture of the vast number of jobless workers who still aren’t getting their benefits – a situation that has spawned lawsuits.

The number of claimants who still haven’t been paid isn’t clearly stated in the public data set, even though it is a primary focus for jobless people who need their benefits to pay for rent, food, transportation and other expenses.

That’s where the Florida Senate’s Minority Leader, Audrey Gibson, comes in.

The Jacksonville Democrat decided to publish a daily tally – showing one number – that shows how many claimants still have not been paid. It’s called Florida Unemployment Benefits Watch, and it was launched May 5.

On Wednesday, for example, an email stated: Day 80. “909,048 Floridians still waiting for payment.”

It ends with #PayTHeClaimsNow, which Floridians can see on Twitter.

The simple figure “needed to mean something, and that’s why I wanted to do this,” Gibson told the Florida Phoenix. “We have this dashboard in front of us and we need to make sure that they (state officials) know what we know hasn’t been done.”

She said people are still trying to apply and reapply for unemployment benefits and it’s a “vicious cycle,” Gibson said. “We’re getting emails from people who haven’t received their first payment.”

If someone wants to go on the state agency’s dashboard on unemployment, you could find the number of claimants who still have not been paid, based on the way Gibson’s tally is done.

It would be a simple math problem:

Confirmed unique claims received, subtracted by total claimants paid.

So in Thursday’s data, it would be 1,952,979 (confirmed unique claims received) minus 1,043,969 (total claimants paid).

The answer: 909,010.

That’s 909,010 Floridians still waiting for payment.

That’s a number that could easily be placed on the dashboard so all Floridians could easily see.

But Gibson said, “They’ll never tell you.”

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.