NELP Action Fund
For Immediate Release: April 18, 2018 — Updated May 3, 2018

Tallahassee, FL—Floridians who lost pay and were out of work as a result of Hurricane Irma last year received little assistance from Governor Rick Scott and his administration. A new analysis of state data on Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) from the National Employment Law Project Action Fund (NELP Action) shows that Governor Scott notched the worst record of any Florida governor in the last 30 years when it came to enabling Floridians to apply for and receive the federally-funded jobless aid.

“Governor Rick Scott may be touring the state touting his record after Irma, but for Floridians who were forced out of work by the hurricane and needed unemployment assistance, Governor Scott was missing in action,” said Paul Sonn, director of NELP Action. “He helped fewer workers and small business owners get jobless aid after the hurricane than any Florida governor in 30 years.”

Only 3,744 workers and small business owners received any DUA payments in the six months after Irma, a mere 53 percent of the people who managed to apply for DUA and were found eligible by the Scott Administration. That is the lowest share of eligible claimants receiving DUA in the last 30 years. More than a third of those receiving DUA only saw their first benefit payment in March 2018 — six months after Hurricane Irma — according to state data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“I saw first-hand how the Scott Administration botched relief for people who’d lost their livelihoods because of Irma,” said Jennifer Hill, a Miami-based legal advocate. “Hurricane victims couldn’t find out how to apply for unemployment insurance online, and back-up phone lines were either shut down or transferred callers out of state to people who couldn’t help them. There’s no question that the Scott administration failed tens of thousands of working Floridians.”

Moreover, only 7,229 Floridians were able to even file a completed DUA claim after Irma—fewer than for any other major disaster except one (Hurricane Jeanne, the last of the four 2004 hurricanes) in the last 30 years in which DUA compensation totaled $1 million or more. For weeks after Irma, the Scott Administration’s online claims system failed to list DUA as an option, and its back-up phone lines often were shut down, left callers on hold, or transferred calls to out-of-state agents who couldn’t file claims. The administration’s promises to fix the system never materialized.

By comparison, 26,370 DUA claims were filed in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and 8,506 received benefits—more than twice as many as in Florida after Irma. And that was despite Florida’s Irma-affected workforce being more than twice the size of that affected by Harvey in Texas, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.

“Governor Scott has made restricting access to unemployment benefits a cornerstone of his tenure in office,” said Dwight Bullard, political director of Florida New Majority. “From the rampant website problems attributed to his lack of compassion for families impacted by the ‘Great Recession’ or the suggestion that those receiving any government benefits should be drug tested. Governor Scott has proven time and time again that working families in Florida are not the constituency he is focused on. The hurricane relief debacle is just the latest in a line of anti-working class policies and efforts supported by Gov. Scott.”

Key findings in the analysis include the following:

  • Overall, Rick Scott has the worst record of any Florida governor in 30 years in helping workers and small business owners apply for and receive post-hurricane unemployment assistance.
  • Although Floridians affected by Irma were by far the largest workforce in the U.S. affected by a major disaster in 2017, and even though Irma ranks as the fifth-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, just 7,229 Floridians were able to submit DUA applications after Irma under the Scott Administration’s system.
  • That’s the lowest number of DUA jobless claims after any major Florida hurricane in 30 years, except for after 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne.
  • Those lowest-in-30-years numbers are all the more shocking because Florida’s population today is 20 percent larger than it was in 2004.
  • Among the few workers and small business owners who managed to apply for DUA and who were found eligible, the Scott Administration got benefits out to just 53 percent—3,744 of the 7,026 eligible applications.
  • That’s the lowest rate for any Florida governor in 30 years after a major hurricane.
  • More than a third of Floridians receiving DUA after Irma only saw a first benefit payment in March 2018 — six months after the hurricane.
  • Rick Scott’s record of getting DUA benefits out to 53 percent of eligible applicants after Irma compares poorly with the 70% average of other Florida governors like Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles after major hurricanes going back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when fully 90 percent of those eligible received help.

The Scott Administration’s failure to deliver DUA aid after Irma was symptomatic of his administration’s worst-in-the-nation state unemployment insurance (UI) program, now renamed Reemployment Assistance (RA). Since Governor Scott took office, the share of jobless workers receiving those benefits has fallen by more than half, to just 10 percent—last among the 50 states—while the maximum length of benefits has also been cut by more than half to just 12 weeks, the fewest in the nation. And Florida’s average weekly benefit amount ($246) is 47th among the states.

As of mid-November, the Scott Administration had processed only 30,646 disaster-related RA claims after Irma, compared to 136,811 disaster-related UI claims in Texas after Harvey.

“Sadly, Governor Rick Scott’s failure to help jobless Floridians post-Irma caps a long track record of slashing jobless aid and creating barriers to make it harder for unemployed Floridians to access such aid,” said NELP Action’s Paul Sonn. “In the wake of Hurricane Irma, when Florida’s workers and small business owners found themselves out of work with no income and desperately needing help from the state, Governor Rick Scott was M.I.A. in delivering DUA unemployment aid.”

Rick Scott’s Record Helping Jobless Workers and Small Business Owners After Hurricane Irma


The National Employment Law Project Action Fund is a project of The Advocacy Fund.