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Laid-Off FL Workers Left to Make Do as Businesses Get Relief

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Monday, May 10, 2021   

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Laid-off workers who had to fight through Florida's broken unemployment system were promised relief with increased benefits. But, Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the plan, telling them to prepare to get back to work.

The Florida Senate wanted to increase unemployment benefits from $275 to $375 a week, with an extended eligibility period from 12 to 14 weeks. When DeSantis said he wouldn't support it, focusing instead on getting people back to work, the plan died in the House.

Dr. Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for the Florida AFL-CIO, said Senate Bill 1906 was a bipartisan effort that could have fixed the many wrongs in the system.

"We still have an unemployment insurance system that is not working," Templin contended. "And it doesn't matter if we're in a pandemic or the normal ups and downs of our economic cycles. Our unemployment insurance system is a joke."

Templin pointed out instead of working to support the modest increase to help those out of work, lawmakers passed legislation to spend $4 billion to fix the unemployment computer system and cover the insurance premiums businesses would have to pay. The changes would overhaul the Department of Economic Opportunity and use money collected from online sales taxes.

However, advocates still celebrate moving the needle on the so-called alternative base period, which the Senate approved, to increase eligibility.

Karen Woodall, executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy at the Florida People's Advocacy Center, said it's a long-overdue technical change currently in place in 42 other states and Washington, D.C. that allows a worker to claim their most recent worked quarter for benefits.

"Who it affects are low-wage seasonal workers who work 'til the very last minute that they can and often make their highest wages in the last quarter of work. They are unable to count that," Woodall explained.

Woodall added she believes the victory in the Senate added momentum to next year's attempts to make the changes into law.

Templin noted there is a good chance for positive changes now that taxpayers pay a disproportionate share of the unemployment system.

"We're hopeful we will be able to get some fixes," Templin remarked. "Because it's always been the business community that wants to keep unemployment insurance payments low as humanly possible because they see that as their money."

DeSantis has indicated anyone receiving unemployment benefits will have to start showing proof that they've been looking for work by the end of May. He lifted that requirement early in the pandemic.

According to FileUnemployment.org, Florida is ranked among the bottom five states in the nation for unemployment compensation.

Disclosure: Florida AFL-CIO contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Civic Engagement, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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