News Section: Opinion
Governor's Job Czar Disproves Benefit Moocher Stereotypes
Welfare Mothers Often Wear Three-Piece Suits
This week, the man Governor Rick Scott selected as his so-called “Jobs Czar” resigned over revelations that the former banker violated state law while collecting unemployment benefits. Hunting Deutsch was Executive Vice President of Wealth Management at BankUnited until it was taken over by feds in May of 2009. Deutsch reportedly drew some $25,000 in unemployment benefits over the nearly two-year period between his stint with the failed bank and his appointment by Scott, all while seemingly skirting eligibility requirements.
Last month, the Florida Current first reported that Deutsch had received unemployment benefits after departing BankUnited – for which he also received a compensation package upon his exit – and that while state regulations require recipients to actively seek employment for each week the benefit is received, as well as to be available for employment, Deutsch and his wife instead took several vacations to Europe during the time he was drawing unemployment checks.
"At the end of the day, I’m fortunate enough where I’ve worked for very successful companies for a long period of time and luckily sold all my bank stocks – most of them at the right time, at the right price – and quite frankly, didn’t have to work," Deutsch told the Tallahassee-based publication. "So my wife and I took time off and traveled a good bit; we were in Europe several times."
The ex-banker also reportedly has homes with a combined value of more than $1 million in Miami and Santa Rosa Beach, in California. Questions are being raised as to whether the man who ran Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity may have committed fraud, a third-degree felony, in cashing in on the benefits, while failing to comply with requirements.
According to the DOE website: "Anyone who collects RI (Reemployment Insurance) benefits is legally responsible for making sure he or she follows the requirements set by state law. Failure to follow the rules can result in serious consequences. Consequences for not following RI regulations can include prosecution by government authorities, repaying the benefits with penalties, forfeiting a future income tax refund, losing future eligibility to collect RI benefits and a possible jail sentence ... claimants who fail to meet their responsibilities by presenting false information or withholding information about earnings can be charged with reemployment assistance fraud, a third degree felony."
The spectacle is another embarrassment for Governor Scott, who was only recently on Fox News saying, "We want people to take personal responsibility. We want people to go look for a job and get back to work.” Florida is tied for last with North Dakota among U.S. States in number of eligible unemployed citizens who actually receive benefits at 16 percent, according to the Department of Labor, who is investigating Florida's unemployment administration.
The governor has been roundly criticized for making it unnecessarily difficult to qualify for unemployment benefits, such as including steps that require the recipient to have computer and internet access, as well as a private email account. Those things probably seem like universal luxuries to people like the Governor and his “Czar.” However, many unemployed Floridians on the low-end of the economic spectrum who rely on the maximum benefit of $290 per week for gasoline and meat, rather than subsidizing transatlantic vacations, often have to travel to public libraries in order to access such technology. A $50 a month Internet connection can really eat into that lean benefit sum.
In a statement last month, Deutsch claimed that he "complied with all eligibility thresholds required by law,” and that “during this time period, I searched for employment and certified such searches as required."
When the AP called Deutsch this week to ask about how he did that during his trips to Europe, he responded that he had just submitted his resignation letter. Deutsch then refused to answer any additional questions about receiving the benefits. "Quite frankly, it's a personal matter," Deutsch reportedly said.
There are a lot of facets to this blunder, not the least of which is the incredibly poor form of the guy who is supposed to be charged with getting out-of-work Floridians off the state dole getting caught abusing the system. Deutsch may have been eligible to receive unemployment, even though he received an exit payout from his failed bank, but if he was so well off because of his self-proclaimed skill at selling stock "at the right time" that he decided he could jet-set back and forth to Europe, then clearly the right thing to do was forgo the benefit, which he was seemingly unwilling to legally comply with.
The fact that he not only didn't, but was then elevated into the position of DOE director – a $140,000 post – is wrong on a whole host of levels, though Deutsch argued that taking the money gave him a helpful perspective of the process. People like Governor Rick Scott used to get a lot of mileage out of painting a social picture of the so-called welfare queens of our society as bottom-rung moochers watching Oprah and eating bon-bons in a Section 8 apartment. In fact, he spent a great deal of taxpayer money drug-testing many of them, only to find out that people don't have to have substance abuse problems to be impoverished.
However, the more stories like this that break, the less the public seems to be buying that tired stereotype. Beginning with the economic collapse and ensuing Wall Street bailout, continuing through Governor Scott's own company's defrauding of Medicare, and now his DOE director seeming to himself have gamed the state's unemployment fund, taxpayers are being reminded that just as often as not, welfare queens wear three-piece suits and live in fancy homes.