APRIL 6, 2020 - Update from our PCA FL lobbyist Johnson & Blanton, LLC. regarding the press conference held by Governor DeSantis.

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Highlights from the COVID-19 Press Conference with Governor Ron DeSantis & Other Agency Directors on 4/6/2020

Governor Ron DeSantis held a COVID-19 Press Conference this morning with Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson, Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter and Department of Revenue Executive Director Jim Zingale. Highlights from the press conference are below:

  • DeSantis began the briefing with an emphasis on social distancing and public health precautions during the religious holidays coming up. He suggested that religious institutions provide online services for Passover and Easter in the hopes of preventing a surge in coronavirus cases.

  • He then talked about the reemployment assistance situation claiming that from August 2018 to February 2020, the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) received 2.3M calls in comparison to 3.8M calls taken just last week. He added that the state has been working around the clock to deal with the website capacity issue and the increased call volumes, including the addition of 72 servers that were brought up last night from Orlando. With these new servers, the website can process 120K simultaneous connections for filing claims compared to the previous 40K-60K range prior to the new servers.

  • DeSantis went on about the reemployment assistance situation claiming that the back-up servers weren’t connected to the system until last night. Adding that 62K people filed claims last night until the scheduled website maintenance at 10PM, with 17K claims filed last week (the low number was mainly due to the site crashing). He continued by stating that the loading latency used to be as high as 72 seconds and now that number is down to less than 1 second.

  • State workers have been working through the weekend at the call center with expedited call center training. With 59 added workers, 250 new workers started this morning at 7:30AM, and DEO is training an additional 500 today to begin work tomorrow. This number may increase depending on volume increases. Over 2,000 state employees have been identified to assist DEO (none from AHCA or DOH due to their separate health care related work during this pandemic).

  • DeSantis added that a virtual secure desktop will be set up by tomorrow to work with the Connect System for state workers to answer calls and input data. He also said the paper application is available to those without internet from Career Source Florida. Local governments are helping distribute the forms by finding locations to disperse them, i.e., local libraries in Miami-Dade. The Governor then stated the state is partnering with FedEx in order to print and mail off a lot of these paper applications for reemployment assistance.

  • Executive Director of the Department of Revenue, Jim Zingale claimed that he hasn’t seen an “all hands on deck” call like this since 1972 and he emphasized how hard his department is working, especially on the child support and tax side. He stated that 518 of his employees were identified to help with the reemployment assistance issue. They will be working on the final verification step of the process, including calculations, then mailing out the checks. He added that 8 of these employees were trained last Friday and he is currently working on getting secure logins and fast-tracking the training for the remaining 518.

  • Executive Director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, Ken Lawson stated that last year there was a total of 326,653K unemployment applications submitted, and just in one month, from March 15th to April 5th, 2020, there have been 520K applications, and growing. By next week, he is expecting over 1,000 new workers, with 280 from contract call centers, to assist DEO as needed. Additionally, Lawson said that DEO is working with the federal government as well as working on a system for Floridians in order for them to receive the $600 federal unemployment money, with $250 added of state unemployment money. Lastly, he said that you can print out reemployment assistance applications by going to the DOE website and mailing them back to his department.

  • The Department of Management Services Secretary, Jonathan Satter, stated that on Saturday 13K people downloaded the reemployment assistance application, with an additional 6K downloads on Sunday. He added that they have an excess of 2,500 state employees ready to help.

  • The Governor claimed that 80,000 reemployment assistance applications can be processed this week versus the prior 6,000 average per week. DeSantis emphasized the urgency of this situation and how this is not like any other economic dip we’ve had before. He also said that they have waived the work search requirement for unemployment assistance as well as reiterated his statements directing the Department of Children and Families to increase SNAP benefits to the maximum monthly amount as well as allow families on reduced or free school lunch to qualify for SNAP and TANF benefits.

  • DeSantis reiterated his Executive Orders relating to evictions, the postponement of licensure renewal, extending tax filing deadlines, and his $2B of infrastructure products to be expedited by the Department of Transportation. He then also reiterated the $50M he released for the 50K loan increments of the bridge loan assistance services for small businesses, as well as the $100M directed to release to communities for infrastructure projects from the Hurricane Irma funds (Rebuild Florida Infrastructure Repair Program). DeSantis claimed that Jared Moskowitz, Director of the Division of Emergency Management has expedited these Irma reimbursements, to cities, counties, and hospital districts. Additionally, the Governor will be signing a new Executive Order today that will waive the collection of taxes for small business loans that were issued under the federal stimulus package. (You should have the EO in your inbox, please let me know if you did not receive the email from me).

  • Testing:
  • Over 120K total tested, with Florida being one of the top states for testing.

  • DeSantis stated that the Abbott Labs’ instant test (the 5-minute rapid test) has been deployed throughout Florida. These tests are not in every major hospital system yet but the Governor is working to share these tests throughout the state so that every major hospital system has access to the rapid test. He added that a lot of these tests were sent to NY due to their outbreak.

  • DeSantis said he has a call today with a company that offers an FDA approved antibody test that helps determine if your body has the antibodies to fight of COVID-19. This test would be issued to those who were diagnosed with the virus. He added that Stanford is conducting a study on the impact of these antibodies and overcoming the pandemic.

  • Hospital Bed Availability:
  • 44% State Average
  • With 43.5% in Miami-Dade County
  • And 45.26% in Broward County

Lastly, Governor DeSantis closed his remarks by saying how appreciative he is to everyone who is working so hard during these trying times and to look out for an additional announcement tomorrow regarding supplies, treatments, and more information on the antibodies test.

Bonus Quote: “We are spiritually together but socially distant. Please keep God close, but please keep COVID-19 away.” Governor Ron DeSantis

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