Article 43

 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Florida Coming After Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Receivers

image: florida unemployment system broke

Were you unemployed during COVID and applied for PANDEMIC UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE?

The term Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) refers to a program that temporarily expanded unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility to people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify. This included self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

PUA was among the programs established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency stimulus package that then-President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27, 2020. The program expired on Sept. 6, 2021, along with other employment-related programs that provided COVID relief.

I think PUA was probably one of the most generous safety net programs for the working class we’ll ever see.

If you filed for PUA benefits in Florida, the experience of dealing with the Unemployment Office’s (Department of Economic Opportunity/DEO) electronic filing system (called CONNECT) may have been a nightmare.

Horror story after story graced the local news since March 2020.

In the middle of this, the DEO decided to partner with ID ME to handle logging into the DEO’s CONNECT system.  I remember it kept asking me to put in the PIN it texted my cell phone.  Only problem is it texted my land-line phone that doesn’t have SMS, so I never got it.  It took weeks to clear that up.  The DEO hotline was always busy with no option to leave a voicemail.  The ID ME site didn’t even have a number to call for support.

THINGS STAYED BAD:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - One of the most frustrating challenges for Floridians seeking unemployment benefits has been identity verification. While the state has tried to fix the issue with a new online option, some have said it is still not working.

For months, Florida’s online claim users with ID lockouts have only had a jammed phone line to let them back in.

“You have to request benefits weekly. I cannot request benefits weekly because I can’t get into my account,” Maragh said. “I’m wrapping my head around why this is such a hard thing to fix.”

Now that that nightmare is over, the state is claiming people were overpaid PUA benefits - which I don’t disbelieve - giving how bad the DEO system was.  The issue was even taken to court, but dismissed because the judge says it’s up to the executive branch - not the courts - to fix the broken system.

Orlando Sentinel REPORTED:

TALLAHASSEE - A Leon circuit court judge has dismissed a potential class-action lawsuit against the state and Deloitte Consulting stemming from the meltdown of Floridaגs online unemployment compensation system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judge John Cooper, for the second time in less than six months, said plaintiffs could not overcome legal hurdles to pursue the case against the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Deloitte, a contractor that helped put in place the CONNECT online system in 2013.

After dismissing the case in September, Cooper allowed the plaintiffs to file a revised version. But he wrote Monday that the nature of the plaintiffs’ claims in the (revised version) are unchanged from their previous complaint; the clear constitutional defects and other deficiencies in those claims have not been addressed.

In part, Cooper wrote that the lawsuit is barred by the separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of government.

Among other things, Cooper also cited sovereign immunity, which helps shield government agencies from lawsuits. He wrote that sovereign immunity also extended to Deloitte because it “acted at the states direction and control in assisting with the design and implementation of the CONNECT system.”

The lawsuit was filed last spring after the CONNECT system was overwhelmed by claims from people who lost jobs as the pandemic forced business closures. It sought damages and raised several arguments, including that the department and Deloitte were negligent and breached a fiduciary duty.

Cooper last month held a hearing on motions by the department and Deloitte to dismiss the case and issued his rulings Monday shortly before Deloitte officials went before a Senate committee to discuss the companys role with the CONNECT system.

The ruling also came after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office released a draft report Thursday by Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel that pointed to longstanding problems with the system that had gone unaddressed, echoing an argument that the plaintiffs made in the lawsuit.

The result.

Come after you and me.

IN YESTERDAY’S NEWS:

ORLANDO, Fla. - FOX 35 News is continuing to hear from lottery winners who aren’t able to claim their winnings. They’re being told it’s because they were overpaid in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

An employment attorney said most overpayments were waived by the state since it was the agency’s mistake meaning the people didn’t have to pay it back.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we begin to see more of these situations,” said attorney Art Schofield. “They’re going to look at the books before they hand out any money to anybody, particularly on lottery winnings.”

Another from TWO DAYS AGO:

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - A woman in Kissimmee won nearly $3,000 on a Florida lottery ticket only to learn the state would not pay her. She was told it was because she was overpaid in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Elizabeth Thornton told FOX 35 she was laid off from her job at Disney in 2020 and struggled with the unemployment process before eventually getting benefits. Years later, she thought she had caught a big break.

Thornton won $2,900 on a Pick Four ticket. Her joy quickly turned to confusion when she showed up at the lottery office. Thornton was told she was overpaid by $8,000 when she received her unemployment benefits. She tells FOX 35 she was told the overpayment was waived by the state, and she didn’t have to pay it back.

“This situation is as unique as winning the lottery,” said Art Schofield, an employment attorney. “It’s not going to happen to many people at all.”

Schofield says most overpayments were waived by the state since it was the state’s mistake, but that doesn’t mean it won’t try to get that money back somehow.

“The overpayments, while they’re not clawing the money back, it doesn’t mean that it might not come up at some point in time like when you have a lottery winning,” Schofield said. “And now you’re pulling from the same entity so to speak.”

The state agency in charge of unemployment benefits told FOX 35 they’ve tried reaching out to Thornton, and that they do withhold lottery payments when someone was overpaid. Thornton says she’ll keep fighting to get her check.

Schofield says while the situation is rare, it will likely happen again. He says the same thing happens if someone wins the lottery and has unpaid child support.

The Florida Jobs website BOASTS:

If you received an overpayment for Reemployment Assistance benefits between March 1, 2020, and September 4, 2021, through no fault of your own, the State of Florida is not referring overpayments to collection agencies to ensure claimants do not experience adverse impacts to their credit scores. Additionally, the State of Florida is not pursuing enforcement actions regarding non-fraudulent state Reemployment Assistance overpayments.

Gotta love the part about COMPASSIONATE:

FloridaCommerce remains committed to Floridians and understands the financial hardships and uncertainty the pandemic has caused for many claimants and their families. FloridaCommerce recognizes the frustrations surrounding overpayments and is actively working to alleviate the challenges being experienced by claimants. To ease the burden of overpayments on claimants, FloridaCommerce has requested to indefinitely defer all referrals to collection agencies for all non-fraudulent debts owed by claimants for state Reemployment Assistance benefits owed for weeks beginning March 1, 2020 through September 4, 2021. This request does not apply to fraudulent overpayments and FloridaCommerce will continue to investigate fraudulent overpayments to ensure individuals and bad actors are held accountable for their fraudulent actions in accordance with the law.

Federal and state law require FloridaCommerce to issue Notices of Disqualifications that may have overpayments attached. However, FloridaCommerce understands how confusing and overburdensome these federal and state requirements may be following the economic hardship experienced by claimants throughout the pandemic. FloridaCommerce continues to take a compassionate approach to helping claimants navigate the many complex federal and state unemployment requirements in law, including federal and state overpayment requirements.

In response, FloridaCommerce is taking proactive measures to relieve the impact these federal and state requirements may cause. For a complete overview on Reemployment Assistance Overpayments, view the FOLLOWING GUIDE

I wonder how many unemployed Floridians didn’t bother to sign up for unemployment insurance during the Pandemic because they couldn’t get into the CONNECT system, and unsuccessfully tried to contact the DEO via phone.

Is the DEO trying to identify those people, and maybe show them a little compassion?

For the alleged overpaid Floridians - the State of Florida may not be selling the alleged debt to collections agencies, but from the articles in the local news about clawing back lottery winnings - it looks like they may not be FORGIVING it either.

Maybe they’ll change their policy at a later date, like refuse to renew DRIVERS’ LICENSES, auto registrations, take lien on our homes, claw back lottery winnings, etc.

Imagine the poor taxi driver stripped of his livelihood because of this?

Who knows what other damages may happen if red flags from this show up on things like background checks for a new job, credit reports, mortgage applications, etc?

Florida isn’t the only states whose unemployment system melted down during the pandemic.  But clawing back the money may be illegal.

In 2021 CNBC REPORTED:

States must refund unemployment benefits they clawed back in error, Labor Department says.

Workers asked to repay unemployment benefits issued during the Covid pandemic may be getting a refund.

However, it may take states up to a year to issue the money, according to a MEMOmemo issued Wednesday by the U.S. Labor Department. States tried clawing back benefits from hundreds of thousands of Americans since spring 2020.

In The MEMO:

To advise states of appropriate circumstances for assessing a monetary fraud penalty and for assessing interest and other collection costs on benefit overpayments created under the CARES Act (Public Law (Pub. L.) 116-136), as amended; and to provide instructions for circumstances under which a state may waive recovery of overpayments, including limited circumstances for permissible use of “blanket waivers.”

Action required from the state. A state must choose one of the following options.

Option #1: Not exercise the waiver authority for these CARES Act programs.

Option #2: Exercise the waiver authority described in paragraph (i) in accordance with paragraph (ii), and not process “blanket waivers” for the two circumstances described in paragraph (iii).

Option #3: Exercise the waiver authority described in paragraph (i) in accordance with paragraph (ii) (as described in Option #2) and process “blanket waivers” for the two circumstances described in paragraph (iii)

In this so-called compassionate state I live in, the Tampa Bay Times reported TWO YEARS AGO:

TALLAHASSEE Five months ago, Gov. Ron DeSantisג administration announced it was ending $300 per week federal unemployment benefits early to spur Floridians back to jobs.

“The jobs are there,” DeSantis said in May. “Im confident, with almost half a million job openings, that people are going to be able to get a job and get back to work.”

I’m not sure if I’d call the Governer’s actions compassionate, but I do remember there were no jobs, and GAVE UP LOOKING for work.

if enhanced unemployment insurance benefits are finally doing what Republicans claimed, incorrectly, they were doing all along - keeping unemployed workers from returning to work - then come fall, when they expire, you may be reading Page One stories about a labor surplus killing off wage growth.

Posted by Elvis on 09/30/23 •
Section Dying America • Section Austerity American Style • Section Workplace
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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Lend-Lease Act of 2022

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President Biden: “We can support Ukraine in the next tranche that we need. And there is another means by which we may be able to find funding for that. But Im not going to get into that now.”
- Democracy Now October 5, 2023

In May 2022 the U.S. Department of Defense REPORTED:

President Joe Biden signed into law the “UKRAINE DEMOCRACY DEFENSE LEND-LEASE ACT OF 2022.”

The act authorizes the administration, through fiscal year 2023, to lend or lease military equipment to Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. The act would exempt the administration from certain provisions of law that govern the loan or lease of military equipment to foreign countries, such as the five-year limit on the duration of the loan or the requirement that receiving countries pay all costs incurred by the United States in leasing the defense equipment. 

A few months LATER:

President Joe Biden has signed the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act into law allotting $816.7 billion to the Defense Department.

The act authorizes the full fiscal year 2023 budget request for the European Deterrence Initiative and extends and modifies the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. It authorizes $800 million in fiscal year 2023, an increase of $500 million above the initial budget request.

More importantly, the act expresses the sense of Congress that the United States’ commitment to NATO is ironclad, and emphasizes the importance of maintaining a unified response to Russia’s unjust war in Ukraine and other shared security challenges, according to a release on the Senate Armed Services Committee website. The Senate release also stressed that the U.S. must continue to assist Ukraine in its fight against the unjust and unprovoked attack by Russia.

The act looks to provide long-term aid to Ukraine especially in waiving restrictions related to contracts for munitions to support Ukraine or to increase DOD’s stocks of critical munitions. It also provides multi-year procurement authority for certain munitions.

The budget for fiscal year 2023 ENDS IN A FEW DAYS - September 30, 2023.  Will the billions government is throwing at Ukraine end?

At this time of the year, the millionaire rulers of our country feign the government is broke, and threaten to shut it down.

We see this political theater a lot to scare us and move more money away from public spending, and into the hands of corporate America and the military - expanding inequality, suffering, and sorrow for the people they claim to represent.

And while the Federal Reserve raises interest rates resulting in you and I paying more for just about everything - lying thru its teeth that too much money is floating around - it pumped $300 BILLION in to the economy to save the rich from loosing a little of their wealth.

US government pays billions in uninsured bank deposits to Silicon Valley oligarchs and venture capital firms

Other countries are building fallout shelters (like WE HAD in the 60s) for their citizens.

eg FINLAND:

Most of the time, this is a family-friendly sports centre. Above ground, the only visible clue to its second identity is a small orange and blue triangle on the wall by the entrance that states: “VAESTONSUOJA SKYDDSRUM, or “defence shelter”. In the event of an emergency, the arena would revert to being the Merihaka bomb shelter, a subterranean living quarters where up to 6,000 people could exist for weeks, or even months.

How prepared ARE WE:

The United States and its citizens are not currently prepared for the after effects of a nuclear disaster of any type, whether an air missile from another nation, an attack on the ground from a terrorist or terrorist group, or some kind of accidental detonation.  Instead of just lording over us for ever, however, the billionaires at the top of these virtual pyramids actively seek the endgame.

Posted by Elvis on 09/26/23 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Dying America • Section Fascism
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