Our team has been working non-stop to deliver COVID19 constituent services this past month, especially in the realm of unemployment insurance. The days have been long and the fear felt by many is very, very real.
What inspires us to remain vigilant and resilient in the face of these deep challenges are the stories of people like Mom, who passed away to cancer in 2004.
Today and everyday, we honor her and people like her around the world. Thank you to all of our mommas out there, and Happy Mother’s Day.
Please is a quick review of COVID19 issues we’ve been tackling along with important updates:
Each week we update our COVID19 Guide in English and spanish to share with you the most up-to-date COVID19 information. You can access each guide by clicking on their respective graphics below.
Florida’s unemployment insurance (UI) system has been a complete disaster and hundreds of thousands of Floridians are suffering because of it.
A broken website compelled with call centers that do not work and bad UI policies have resulted in Florida being one of the slowest states in releasing unemployment benefits. Florida only recently rolled out Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) from the CARES Act, and still hasn’t made Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) available, which will provide an additional 13 weeks of UI benefits to Floridians who have already exhausted their state benefits. To this day, there are Floridians who have waited since March to get paid.
Supporting Floridians and providing direct assistance in accessing UI benefits has been one of our biggest priorities for the last eight weeks. Most recently we voted YES to support a Special Legislative Session to address not only unemployment benefits but Medicaid Expansion and 2020 election preparedness too. Unfortunately the call for a Special Session died along a party-line vote.
We’ve also worked to hold the Department of Economic Opportunity accountable by demanding improved constituent services, and a direct response for those who contact our office in need of help.
Our leadership in responding to COVID19 and tackling Florida’s broken unemployment system has been featured in both local and national news; this includes The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Associated Press.
Because of Florida’s broken unemployment insurance system, I have also committed to give away my state salary to constituents in need. It’s not much — but it does not make sense for me to get paid when so many Floridians are not.
Tonight at 8:00pm we will be joining Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith and Pam Keith for a Town Hall focused on unemployment benefits. You can tune-in on our Facebook page at 8:00pm to watch. We host a weekly Town Hall every Friday on both Facebook Live and Instagram Live at 6:00pm. Click here read the Department of Economic Opportunity’s newest Resource Guide and click here to see their landing page focused on the CARES Act.
As we continue to navigate Florida’s unemployment insurance crisis, we’ve remained vigilant on issues impacting housing security. Many families and individuals we are working with are one paycheck away from becoming homeless, and some already live in Florida’s hotels, paying a weekly fee to keep a roof over their head.
We’ve asked Governor Ron DeSantis more than once to expand the state’s moratorium on residential evictions and foreclosures, and most recently penned a letter alongside fellow lawmakers asking not only for housing security measures to be implemented, but for college students to be able to end their leases early since many have left their off-campus apartments, but are still being tied to a lease of an empty apartment. In addition, we’ve continued our advocacy with utility companies to help make sure Floridians won’t lose their power for an inability to pay electric bills during this pandemic.
We will continue to play a leadership role in ensuring that Floridians not only get their unemployment benefits, but that we prevent and reduce homelessness, too.
SMALL BUSINESS ADVOCACY
Our advocacy to protect small businesses has been another constant area of focus in our COVID19 response. Three weeks ago we sent a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis outlining six key areas of focus for our small business community, including increasing the funds available in Florida’s Bridge Loan Program. As you may already, these funds quickly evaporated, and only 1,000 small businesses out of 38,000 that applied received an emergency loan. PPP and EIDL — two of the federal relief programs — have also been plagued with major corporations benefiting, versus smaller mom-and-pop small businesses.
Meanwhile, while small businesses suffer Florida refunded $543 million to the state’s largest corporations. We asked the Governor more than once to pause the release of these funds, especially since Florida’s economic outlook remains uncertain and small businesses desperately need relief.
More than 500 small business owners have signed onto our letter, and though the Governor has yet to respond to us formally, he has spoken about small businesses more intentionally during his recent press conferences and we remain committed to pushing our Governor to enhance state support programs.
MORE COVID19 TESTING
Orange County has increased testing capability, including one location in Winter Park. Please click here for a full list of COVID19 testing options.
Orange County has also announced antibody testing but right now the tests are only for first responders and healthcare workers to determine if they have been exposed to the virus. Click here to learn more.
PARTS OF FLORIDA OPENING BACK UP
This past week we have seen parts of Florida reopen through the Governor’s “Phase 1” plan, and tomorrow Orange County’s curfew will end. Barber shops, hair and nail salons can reopen in most of Florida tomorrow, too. There are guidelines to follow when it comes to how businesses that are open should operate and we’ve included more specifics in our Central Florida COVID19 Guide which you can find here. You can also read the FAQ on Phase 1 of Florida’s reopening plan here.
Orange County has purchased one million masks using money from the CARES Act that will be distributed to small businesses so they can keep employees safe. Click here to learn more.
Remember that as communities in the Sunshine State wrap up their first week under phase one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reopening plan, cases of coronavirus across the state continue to rise. Please continue to practice CDC guidelines and stay safe.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
We know that this is a really tough time for us all, but we want you to know that you are not alone. Below is a list of resources available to you 24/7 that you can reach out to if you need help, or just want someone to talk to. Know these resources, and share with family and friends. Also consider joining us on Facebook Live this Wednesday at 7:00pm for a Mental Health Awareness Month Q&A hosted alongside NAMI of Greater Orlando.
Representative Anna V. Eskamani
PS: We sat down with the Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida (outside my home and with social distancing, of course!) to film a storytime segment of me reading Sofia Valdez, Future Prez. We hope you and your family enjoy this incredible story of a girl who learns how anything is possible if you just put your heart into it!