Tuesday, February 02, 2021

'F---ing livid': Florida Democratic Party chair pledges to fix insurance lapse that blindsided staff. (Politico)

No notice to employees -- this violated labor law.  How did Democratic Party lawyers, like Tallahassee power lawyer Mark Herron, not know, and not advise the Party not to cancel peoples' right to health care?

Perhaps a federal grand jury should investigate an $800,000 deficit.

Our Florida State Democratic Party leadership badly needed replacing.

From Politico: 

Former Mayor of Miami Manny Diaz speaks before former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg during a news conference. | AP Photo

“The claims will be paid,” Manny Díaz said in an interview. “Everyone will be paid.” | Brynn Anderson/AP Photo

'F---ing livid': Florida Democratic Party chair pledges to fix insurance lapse that blindsided staff 


02/01/2021 06:31 PM EST



TALLAHASSEE — The cash-strapped Florida Democratic Party allowed health insurance for its employees to lapse late last year, leaving some staff unable to pay medical bills and rattling the already struggling organization anew.

Insurance for employees of the state party ended on Nov. 30, according to records and staffers interviewed by POLITICO. The decision left many staff unknowingly without health coverage for weeks. Some had piled up medical bills they'd later be on the hook for as they scheduled post-election procedures and appointments believing they had coverage, according to interviews with seven current and former party staffers and officials.

After POLITICO asked newly elected party Chair Manny Diaz, the former mayor of Miami, on Monday about the health insurance lapse, he said the policy would be reinstated this week and staffers would have their bills handled.

“The claims will be paid,” he said in an interview Monday afternoon. “Everyone will be paid.” 

The party is hurting financially, but based on Diaz’s review of finances, he says, should have been able to continue paying employee health insurance, and he is not sure why former party Chair Terrie Rizzo and former executive director Juan Peñalosa let the policy lapse. 

“The party could have paid for it,” Diaz said. “You would have to ask them why that decision was made. It seems to me both mismanagement and inhumane.”

The move to let the party’s health insurance lapse sent shockwaves through the party as it tries to regroup ahead of a 2022 election cycle that includes nationally watched gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races. Florida Democrats have been reeling for years after sustaining regular losses up and down the ballot. Their collapse in the 2020 cycle had already set off a civil war and a series of unforced errors like applying for federal pandemic relief funds while everyday businesses struggled to stay afloat.

Close to midnight Monday evening, Rizzo texted a statement saying the situation was a mix-up.

“It’s important to know that the insurance was never cancelled [sic] — by me or any of the past leadership team,” she said. “The party had the funds to pay the November health insurance bill, we paid it, and I have only recently been told that there was a delay in the check being applied, but the insurance provider is sending out a letter explaining that all policies will be honored and the January report will reflect that.”

Records show the party’s health insurance coverage was dropped effective Dec. 1. But staff members say no notice was given from party officials and notices from Florida Blue, the party’s insurer, did not go out to many for more than a month after the policy was canceled.

“Your health and well being are important to us,” read a notice dated Jan. 7 sent from Florida Blue to FDP staffers reviewed by POLITICO. “And we understand your employer had a difficult decision to make when they chose to drop your Florida Blue coverage.”

The letter continues: “We are sorry that your group was unable to ‘Stay Blue' ... If you have any questions, we encourage you to talk to your employer.”

FDP’s state and federal accounts made their last payments to Florida Blue in September, according to campaign finance reports. 

Diaz said he will reinstate the health insurance plan, but the initial decision to let the policy lapse was a weekslong anxiety-inducing event for many party staffers who were hit.

“I’m f---ing livid,” Tania Ingram, FDP’s former deputy training director, said in a Friday interview before Diaz announced plans to reinstate the policy. “I’ve taken action like calling elected officials, party chairs. I have called party leaders. I have reached out to [party headquarters in] Miami to raise money for these people who now have bills piling up. I’ve heard nothing.”

She added: “The party is in a lot of trouble. ... They are a hot mess.”

Ingram said she has coverage through her spouse, but is in shock the party would make the decision to leave so many younger staffers without insurance or a real backup plan.

She specifically mentioned the case of Catherine Thériault, the party’s former deputy director of analytics. She got surgery in December when she thought she was still covered by the party and was left with roughly $50,000 in medical bills.

“Not one person has called her. I am here fighting for the young Catherines of the party,” Ingram said.

Beyond the frustration of being left without health insurance, party staffers said they are also left “heartbroken” because the decision was made by the political party that has made expanded health coverage a central pillar of its philosophy and appeal.

“We need to walk the walk,” said Nadia Ahmad, a party official from Seminole County who was recently elected as a Democratic National Committee member. “Florida is winnable in 2022, but we need to put people before the party. This is about basic labor issues. We have to come from a position of the moral high ground.”

Part of the problem, according to staffers and campaign finance records, is FDP was running out of money the heels of a disastrous 2020 election cycle where Donald Trump won Florida by nearly three percentage points, and Democrats lost seats in Congress and the state Legislature. The party’s federal account, for instance, has just $60,000 in the bank and $869,000 in outstanding debts.

Rizzo, the former party chair, said a “robust” fundraising plan had been developed for her successor and offered to help. 

“I am concerned that the party is not raising money and my offer to help still stands as I believe in the staff and the institution,” she said in her statement.

Diaz said he was aware the party's finances were in a difficult place when he decided to run for chair, a bid that came with the endorsement of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire who spent $100 million in Florida in 2020 in a failed attempt to beat Trump in the state.

“I knew it was going to be a major effort to transform the party politically, that was obvious, but there were also a lot of other things that needed to be changed, as we see now,” Diaz said. “I knew it was bad. I didn’t think things were going to this bad.”

One of his first acts was to fire two-thirds of FDP staff, a move that angered many in the unionized state party, but he said was needed to cut costs. 

“I’ve had to make some difficult decisions,” Diaz said. “I called the union and was very up front with them, and told them my situation.

There is growing pressure to force new party leadership to hold a state committee meeting sooner than originally scheduled to discuss, among other things, “financial matters of the organization.”

“The discussion of these matters cannot wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting because of the sudden rise of Trump’s fascism post-election and the need to respond in a timely and effective manner," read an email Ahmad sent at 6 a.m. Monday notifying party leaders they had enough votes to call a special meeting. "Also of concern are the termination of FDP employees and issues regarding employee benefits.”

They are recommending the creation of an Audit and Oversight Committee that would work with the party’s existing Rules Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee, but more broadly want to talk to current party leaders about the party’s financial health.

Newly elected Democratic National Committee member Thomas Kennedy said on the heels of mass layoffs and with continued shaky finances, a gathering is required.

“We literally just want to get a status report. When you have layoffs of two-thirds of staff, are severely in debt and have staffers rightfully airing grievances like this, it’s beyond time to call a meeting,” he said.

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