Floridians who are behind on their rent or their mortgage payment won’t have to worry about being kicked out of their homes until mid-May, under an executive order signed Thursday by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“We’re suspending foreclosures for 45 days and also suspending evictions for 45 days,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference late Thursday. “I’m not sure that you’re going to rent out a lot of new places right now anyways, but you never know how people will act. So given the circumstances I think those suspensions are warranted.”
The new order was one of several steps DeSantis discussed to control the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.
He also signed an executive order on reemployment assistance, directing all state agency heads to identify and deploy the Department of Economic Opportunity with call center operations and other services.
Florida businesses have furloughed and laid off workers and unemployment claims have skyrocketed. The state had 307,701 unemployment claims for all of 2019. In the last two weeks, it’s had 348,511 claims, DeSantis said.
At the same time the state’s unemployment website has had glitches and error messages, preventing many people from filing claims.
“This system is not handling the needs of the people of Florida in an adequate way. We need to do more to be able to get relief for the people of Florida,” DeSantis said. “In terms of our economic priorities, this is our top priority to be able to field calls and respond appropriately.”
DeSantis also clarified questions that have come up about his statewide Stay at Home order that takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, as well as an amendment to the order that says the state order supersedes any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials.
DeSantis said the goal of his order was to reduce contact between people outside their homes.
“It’s less important what you do than how you do it,” he said. “For example, if you want to go for a 10-mile run by yourself and come back, more power to you. But you wouldn’t be able to do a 20-person road race in your neighborhood with 19 of your friends.”
Several local jurisdictions that have issued their own orders, including Pinellas County, which earlier Thursday extended its own Safer at Home order and authorized County Administrator Barry Burton to order any retail business not included in the list of essential businesses to close.
“We’re doing essential services and restrictions on that … What we’re doing is setting a floor and they can’t go below the floor,” DeSantis said.
Burton told the St. Pete Catalyst that he does not believe the governor’s actions changes any of the local actions taken in Pinellas County.
The statewide Stay at Home order also called attending religious services an essential activity. That puts it in direct conflict with Hillsborough County, which earlier this week arrested a Hillsborough pastor for conducting an in-person church service with hundreds of parishioners despite the county’s “Safer-At-Home” order.
“I don’t think the government has authority to close a church. I’m certainly not going to do that,” DeSantis said. “At the same time, we got with the churches and the synagogues very early and said in times like this, what you are doing is very important but we ask you do it in a way that’s conducive to the overall mission. I would say almost of them agree.”
Some religious groups are holding virtual services, while others are holding in-person services but abiding by social distancing guidelines, with people sitting six feet apart, DeSantis said.
“Do it right, make sure you are following the mission, but coming up on the Easter season, I think people will want to have access to religious services,” DeSantis said.