By John Haughey
The Center Square
August 8, 2020
(The Center Square) – Congress has allocated what amounts to $57,000 for each of America’s 55 million unemployed workers and cannot continue to do so without greater accountability on how federal COVID-19 assistance money is spent, Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott said.
Scott has been an outspoken critic of federal relief packages and is among key GOP senators opposing an extension of the $600 weekly federal unemployment relief program, which is among contentious snags in negotiations between House Democrats and Senate Republicans in securing another large pandemic emergency assistance package.
In a Fox News op-ed, Scott called the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act adopted by Congress in March and the $1 trillion to $3 trillion assistance program now in stalemated debate as mechanisms to “launder taxpayer money.”
“Here’s a novel idea as we discuss the latest phase of Congress’s COVID-19 response: rather than launder taxpayer money through inefficient and wasteful federal agencies or state governments with no concern for fiscal responsibility, let’s just give taxpayers their money back,” Scott wrote.
Between the CARES Act unemployment benefits and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, “the total spent by Congress to respond to this pandemic and help workers amounts to $57,000 per unemployed American,” Scott wrote. “Now, do you believe that every unemployed American – or any unemployed American – has received anything close to $57,000?
“Of course not,” Scott continued, “because the money Congress spent has been laundered through myriad federal agencies, state and local governments, and new entitlement programs with bureaucracies to go along with them.”
Along with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, Scott wrote letters to fellow senators and the National Governors Association demanding more transparency.
“On June 15th, we wrote every governor in the country to ask for an update on how their states have allocated funds from the CARES Act and other federal coronavirus response measures,” the letter noted.
Scott said he was “disappointed in the lack of response from 42 states,” including Florida.
In a Fox News appearance, Scott, who served as Florida’s governor from 2010-18, said, “In the middle of a crisis, you shouldn’t just be criticizing everybody” before criticizing governors – including his successor, Gov. Ron DeSantis – for “bragging and blaming” instead of focusing on COVID-19 pandemic responses.
“I think everybody ought to take a breather and just keep informing people and quit bragging that one place is better than another,” Scott said. “Let’s quit bragging and blaming. Let’s get the work done.”
If a relatively small, single-day snapshot is an indication, Scott’s views are not shared by a significant majority of rank-and-file Floridians.
A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday showed nearly 80 percent of 609 Florida voters queried July 31 want Congress to continue federal unemployment relief, and 91 percent want PPP extended and tweaked to better benefit small businesses.
In the poll, 41 percent said Congress should extend the $600 a week unemployment payments, 14 percent called for the amount to be increased and 24 percent want it continued, but at lesser weekly amounts.
Only 15 percent agreed with Scott that the unemployment assistance program should be discontinued.
Among those who said they were unemployed, 38 percent said they don’t feel safe returning to work, and 32 percent said there aren’t enough jobs. Overall, 25 percent of all respondents said someone in their household was made jobless by the pandemic.
Only 17 percent said they’d rather live on $600-a-week relief checks than return to work – the chief objection cited by the 15 percent in the survey opposed to the extension and, repeatedly, by Scott.