It’s official. Ken Lawson, head of the state agency that ran Florida’s faulty unemployment system, quit on Monday.
He had been secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity since January 2019 but held a reduced role there since this spring.
Lawson came under fire in April when his department’s unemployment system proved woefully unable to process the avalanche of jobless claims filed during economic shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Though Gov. Ron DeSantis blamed former Gov. Rick Scott for building the bad unemployment system, he removed Lawson from oversight of it in mid-April and placed Department of Management Services Director Jonathan Satter in the oversight role.
State audits finding grave flaws in the unemployment system well before coronavirus hit Florida were issued during Lawson’s tenure and since DeSantis was elected governor in 2018.
“In the spirit of turning the page and moving forward, I respectfully submit my letter of resignation,” Lawson wrote on Monday. He previously served as executive director of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and as secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
There was no immediate word from the governor’s office about a successor.
But in a discussion Monday afternoon in Tampa, DeSantis said to reporters that he has a replacement and will probably “give you that name very soon.”
Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat and outspoken critic of the Republican governor and his appointee Lawson, said Lawson won’t be missed.
“We haven’t seen Ken Lawson or Secretary Satter in months— as far as I’m concerned, he wasn’t even at DEO anymore,” Eskamani said in a press statement. “Meanwhile, we continue to see new unemployment claims come our way, including from Floridians who haven’t seen a dime and others who are missing weeks of back pay.”
Florida’s unemployment rate was 11.3 percent in July, the last monthly data available, representing more than 1.1 million jobless people in this state.
The unemployed receive $275 weekly in state unemployment benefits. For four months, they were eligible for a $600 federal unemployment supplement atop the state benefit, but the federal funds ended in late July.
DeSantis last week signed up for a short-term federal supplement of $300 per week that is expected to last three to six weeks.
DeSantis has announced no other action to bolster unemployment benefits for people still jobless in Florida.
Eskamani and other elected state Democrats insist that many eligible Floridians still have not been fully paid because of failings of the system.
by Laura Cassels and Issac Morgan Florida Phoenix CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.