While some federal guidelines are in place, Pew notes there is no single nationwide system for unemployment; each state, in addition to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, has its own system. Overall it’s up to each state to decide how those who apply will qualify for benefits as well as how much and how long it will be received. This results in disparities nationwide including vast differences in the number of people who qualify and receive benefits state by state. According to data from the Labor Department’s Employment & Training Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in early March while 65.9% of unemployed Americans in Massachusetts received benefits only 7.6% of those in Florida did.
In addition to varying state systems, Pew noted that “being counted as unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits are two completely different things.” While one can be unemployed that does necessarily make them eligible for unemployment benefits; in order to qualify for benefits an individual must have been out of work by no fault of their own and be both available for work or be actively looking to do so—other conditions may apply and vary state by state. These factors in addition to how systems collect data contribute to how many residents qualify for unemployment benefits per state and how payments are distributed.
Across the country, jobless Americans have been met with system crashes while applying for or attempting to claim benefits. In California, Americans filing claims are facing error messages and jammed phone lines days, according to The Los Angeles Times. Last Tuesday, California extended the unemployment program to those previously excluded, including gig workers and self-employed individuals, so state residents are expected to face further delays.
New Jersey residents find themselves in a similar situation, as the unemployment filing website continues to crash despite organized schedules created for users to file and claim by social security number. Some individuals have reported that despite filing last month they have still been unable to claim and receive their unemployment benefits. The state Labor Department confirmed the site being completely shutdown on Sunday. “We have been working feverishly to identify the source of the problem and correct it as quickly as possible,” the state said, according to NJ Advance Media.
Unemployed Americans in Maryland faced the same issue when labor department officials shared that the online application system was down Sunday. While the department later shared on its website that the application system was running, it noted operating speeds were slower and that it could not guarantee other technical difficulties will not arise.
Of course of all the states facing difficulties in distributing funds to unemployed residents, Florida takes the cake. Not only did data show that Florida state residents received unemployment benefits at a lower rate than any other state, but the state also has the lowest level of benefits in the country. The maximum amount of benefits one can receive in Florida for a week is $275, The New York Times reported. Last week Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged that only 34,000 of 850,000 pending claims have been paid and while that number has increased to 117,000, it still accounts for a small percentage of unemployed Americans.
To add the cherry on top, instead of being accountable for the obstacles Floridians face in obtaining unemployment benefits and the number of unprocessed claims, DeSantis continues to play the blame game and credits Rick Scott for designing a failed system. “Everyone we talk to in that office when we ask them what happened tells us, ‘the system was designed to fail.’ […] 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,” DeSantis’s advisor told Politico. The current system dating back to 2011 was already slow in processing claims prior to the virus, DeSantis said last week. He even blamed the increase in applications for further slowing down the system. “If you applied in January, I mean, it was a cumbersome process—it would take several weeks,” he said. “But when the unemployment rate is 3 percent, it’s a little bit different than what we have now.”
While the federal CARES Act was implemented to address concerns of low unemployment benefits nationwide, funds were distributed to states to disperse allowing obstacles states faced to influence when payments would be made. As Vox notes, even before the coronavirus crisis unemployment benefits were difficult to access, so as more Americans apply across the country glitchy systems and programs further delay their payments. Until a sufficient system is implemented nationwide, Americans will continue to face obstacles in obtaining much-needed funds during times of crisis. This pandemic sheds light on the disparities between state systems and the importance of streamlining processes that directly affect the American people and economy.