Judge dismisses motion for immediate payment of unemployment benefits

Reporter: Sara Girard Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:

A plan to get people their much-needed unemployment benefits immediately has hit a snag.

A judge on Wednesday sided with the state to dismiss an order asking for immediate payments to the unemployed.

The Department of Economic Opportunity’s dashboard on Wednesday shows the state says it has paid roughly 43 percent of claims.

A lot of people are still waiting for relief, and with Wednesday’s ruling, they’ll have to keep waiting until the state verifies their claims and gets the payments out.

By phone conference Wednesday, lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the DEO asked a judge to dismiss the mandamus, saying Florida has made significant improvements to the site and the process as a whole.

“All the data so far shows that most claimants are actually receiving payment in a faster timeline, many using the state’s PEGA system in as few as 10 days,” said James Uthmeier, an attorney for DeSantis.

“If they’re ineligible then they’re going to have administrative appeal rights,” said Rebekah Davis, attorney for the Department of Economic Opportunity.

The plaintiffs argued that the state isn’t promptly making unemployment payments as is required by law and the issues with the unemployment website make the application process difficult and delay the opportunity for benefits.

“The money is there, the wallet is there, the will is not there,” said attorney Gautier Kitchen, who along with attorney Marie Mattox filed the class-action lawsuit against the state.

“It’s not eligibility we’re fighting against; what we’re fighting against is that system is broken so that they can’t get a determination as to whether they are eligible or not,” Mattox said.

The plaintiffs argued that the state should adopt a “pay and chase” method to get people their money almost immediately after applying.

The state said they can’t do that because of federal mandates, like “validating social security numbers, validating that people are working for actual employers in Florida, salary information,” Uthmeier said.

After listening to each side, Judge Angela Dempsey decided the plaintiffs’ argument didn’t meet the statutory requirements to warrant a mandamus.

DOCUMENTS: Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss | Plaintiff’s Response to the Motion to Dismiss

“I believe we all want these claims to be resolved efficiently and we all feel bad for these folks who are having to wait, but I’m bound by the law,” the judge said.

From the sounds of Wednesday’s meeting, the plaintiffs plan to appeal with new information. WINK News has reached out to the lawyers and is waiting to hear back.

They’re also currently suing the state and company that made the unemployment website for negligence. That separate lawsuit is ongoing.

For ongoing updates and information on unemployment, follow WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard on Twitter and Facebook.

She also updates the FAQ: Unemployment Resources page as information is received.

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