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Florida Democrats talk about living on the minimum wage for a week

Last week, a number of Democrats in the Florida Legislature took “The Minimum Wage Challenge,” a week-long attempt to live on what a minimum wage worker earns and endures to show empathy and solidarity with the Fight for 15 movement.

That’s the effort led  by the Service Employees International Union in Florida to have fast-food workers, daycare and home health care workers and adjunct professors get a raise to $15 an hour. Miami Democrat Dwight Bullard in the Senate (SB 6) and Orlando Democrat Victor Torres (HB 109) have filed legislation to raise the current minimum wage of $8.05 an hour in Florida to $15, but it’s not expected to get any traction under the GOP-led Legislature.

“It makes you really appreciate the financial position that you’re in now,  as opposed to the plight that too many Floridians (have) living on minimum wage, ” said Bullard, who was participating in the challenge for the third straight year. He says he’ll keep on doing it until the state hikes up the minimum wage.

“The challenge I met with all my heart,” said Rep. Torres, who thanked some minimum wage workers who were on the call. “The message has to be sent out there, and we need to get everybody’s sponsorship on the House bill, and I’m honored to be with Sen Bullard, fighting the fight.”

“This movement is inspiring on its own,” said Clint Cuyler, an Orlando area fast-food worker. “For our legislators to take the time out and walk a day and a week in our shoes, is what this campaign needed to keep the ball rolling, and to continue to make progress.”

Although as many as 18 such Democrats were scheduled to participate, not all did. SEIU officials hosting a conference call late Tuesday afternoon said that there will be two other weeks coming up in which they can engage in the challenge if they so desire.

“I do know that there were some people who signed up for the challenge who just felt it too difficult and didn’t complete, but they did sign up to participate,” said Orlando Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson.

No Republicans took up the challenge, which Sen. Bullard said was very disappointing, considering how many of their constituents are struggling financially.

“It’s important for you to understand the everyday part of your constituency,” he said. “And so it was my hope that there be more Republicans to stepping up to the challenge.”

Bullard added that he hoped some GOP members of the Legislature could participate in the upcoming minimum wage challenge weeks, which will start on October 12 and October 26.

A Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday night showed that 54 percent of all Republican voters support raising the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. Only 26 percent support keeping it where it is right now.

Al Fox and Ralph Fernandez engage in ‘great debate’ over U.S. Cuba relations in Ybor City

It was billed as “The Great Debate” with two of the most prominent Tampa residents on the issue of Cuba, Al Fox and Ralph Fernandez, duking it out on whether the United States should end the 54-year-old economic embargo against the Castro-led government.

Hundreds jammed into the historic Centro Asturiano building in Ybor City for a 90-minute forum hosted by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club on Monday night, and judging by the laughs alone, were thoroughly entertained by these two passionate advocates when it comes to Cuba.

The 63-year-old Fernandez was born in Cuba but moved to Tampa in 1961 at the age of 8, and has long been the man when local or national media want a hit from an anti-Castro perspective in Tampa. He’s defended a number of Cuban dissidents in the United States.

While for years, Fox was a lonely voice in Tampa in advocating for business and political leaders to get active in reestablishing relations with the Cuban government.

And though they frequently clashed during the debate, there were several issues when the men realized they were on the same page, such as in opposing the decades-old “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy with Cubans.

“No one addresses the Cuban exemption,” barked Fernandez. “And it serves a lot of people. And it risks lives, and more than that it creates a draw for people to come to this country and engage in the grow house businesses and the clinic businesses and the tax of our businesses and rape the system as a whole!”

They also agreed that for national security reasons, the U.S. government should not give up the Guantanamo naval base. That’s significant, as Cuban President Raul Castro has said that the U.S. must return the property before the two nations can fully restore relations. “Raul Castro can put that on the table all he wants to,” said Fox. “We’re not going to give it up, certainly not anytime soon.”

But there were some moments of tension, such as when Fox referred to the fact that when he ran for Congress in Hillsborough County in 2006, Fernandez printed signs that read,”Give Fidel Castro a voice in the U.S. Congress: Vote Al Fox.”

“That was below the belt, I thought,” said Fox. “But you seem tonight to be somewhat moderating your strident, in-your-face positions, and I gotta tell you that in the spirit of Dr. [Martin Luther] King and Jose Marti, I truly welcome it. I really do.”

“It is true that I said some things which I felt were true that I do not regret,” Fernandez replied. “It is true that he has been lightning-rod for criticism. It is true that he was not successful until now, and he took great pride today in indicating in the Tribune article that he had won,” referring to how the debate– at least in Tampa, seems to be decisively in support of the rapprochement with the Communist island. “But I think he understands, as many, that what we’re trying to do is analyze the Cuban situation and see how we can avoid the mistakes that this country made in the past, so that we don’t make ’em again in the future.”

Fox lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for 41 years, and cited the Beltway in terms of personal/political feuds. “In Washington you have professional assholes. We’re amateurs down here,” eliciting large guffaws.

In their concluding remarks, Fernandez addressed a topic that neither moderator Jeff Patterson from WFLA-News Channel 8, nor the three media representatives — La Gaceta’s Patrick Manteiga, The Tampa Tribune’s Paul Guzzo, and yours truly — had addressed: the idea of a Tampa hosting a Cuban consulate.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Fernandez said. “It would bring conflict to this area, and there may be a reaction from people that you would understand.”

Although the majority of the Tampa political and business establishment is supportive of Fox’s efforts to renew relations with Cuba, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn remains resolutely off-board. The mayor has said he’s neutral in the discussion over bringing a consulate to Tampa, but Fox says the mayor needs to come around.

Citing a newspaper story that quoted Buckhorn saying that out of respect for Cuban exiles living in Tampa who disdain the Castro regime he would continue to oppose greater relations with Cuba. “The mayor is wrong, he’s not providing any leadership,” he said.

Sometimes Fox and Fernandez failed to answer direct questions, as they were intent on responding to what the previous speaker had said. At times Patterson seemed ready to just throw his hands up in resignation. Afterwards, Fernandez thanked the time-keepers (Tiger Bay Club officers Don Kruse and Gregory Wilson) for being the stars of the evening.

Fox also said he’s been persecuted for political views, citing his DUI arrest in 2013 where his blood alcohol level was tested at 0.0. (Fox went to jail, but prosecutors declined to pursue the charge given the lack of evidence. He then sued the department). He also said the U.S. Treasury Department sent him a letter earlier this year saying that he’s been fined over $1 million.

Both men say they’ll keep on pushing their points of view.

Chris Christie, Rand Paul added to RPOF Sunshine Summit

Blaise Ingoglia and the Republican Party of Florida’s big Sunshine Summit is looking a lot better than it was a couple of weeks ago.

That’s when only native sons Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio had committed to the mid-November fundraising event for the RPOF, creating the possible scenario of the majority of Republican presidential candidates not getting placed on the state’s presidential primary next March.

But after the party announced the criteria for the candidates to get on the ballot, those candidates are now flocking to attend. On Monday the party announced that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul have joined the growing roster of candidates who will be present at the event taking place next month at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel from November 12-14.

Last week, Donald Trump, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham  and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced their participation.

“With eight candidates announced to attend, and more to come, the Sunshine Summit is turning out to be the can’t-miss event of the primary election,” said Ingoglia in a statement.

Two weeks ago, the RPOF received a backlash of criticism when word leaked that Ingoglia was floating the idea of not allowing the GOP presidential candidates to get placed on the March 15, 2016, ballot if they didn’t participate in the summit.

They then amended that plan, announcing that they were giving the candidates an option of paying a $25,000 filing fee to RPOF or file a petition with signatures of 3,375 registered Republicans, including 125 from each congressional district.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio still in middle of the pack in new Iowa, NH polls

Florida’s two presidential candidates – Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio- remain in the middle of the pack in two new polls taken in Iowa and New Hampshire and released on Sunday.

Donald Trump continues to lead the Republican field in both states, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist surveys.

In New Hampshire, Trump now holds a five-point advantage over Carly Fiorina among GOP primary voters, 21 percent to 16 percent – followed by Bush in third place with  percent, and Marco Rubio and Ben Carson tied for fourth at 10 percent each.

That’s a drop down for the NYC businessman/celebrity; Last month Trump held a 16-point lead in the poll over John Kasich in New Hampshire.

And in Iowa, Trump is ahead of  Carson by five points among potential GOP caucus-goers, 24 percent to 19 percent – with Fiorina in third at 8 percent, Bush at 7 percent, and Rubio, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal tied at 6 percent.

Meanwhile in the Democratic contest, Hillary Clinton leads in Iowa, while Bernie Sanders maintains his lead in New Hampshire.

In Iowa, it’s Clinton 47 percent, Sanders 36 percent, and Martin O’Malley with 4 percent.

In New Hampshire, it’s Sanders over Clinton 48-39 percent.

The NBC/WSJ/Marist polls were conducted Sept. 23-30. In Iowa, 431 potential GOP caucus-goers were interviewed (margin of error plus-minus 4.7 percentage points), as well as 348 Democratic caucus-goers (plus-minus 5.3 percentage points. In New Hampshire, 450 potential GOP primary voters were interviewed (margin of error plus-minus 4.6 percentage points), as well as 404 Democratic voters (plus-minus 4.)

Possible movement in Tampa civilian review board saga?

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and City Council Chairman Frank Reddick had a sit-down meeting late Friday afternoon, and the result is that Buckhorn may – just may – allow the Council to add one more choice to the main nine-member police civilian review board.

“Potentially that could be an option,” Buckhorn said after emerging from his office to address reporters. “I had floated out last week to give them a total of four, one additional appointee and one of the alternates, but there may be other ways to skin that cat, so I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

“We made a lot of progress when I had the opportunity to walk into his office,” Reddick told reporters after exiting the meeting first. “That’s a first step and to have open discussion, and before that most of the discussion has been from Council Chamber talking to the media, but to speak to the mayor one on one, we had open dialogue, put everything on the table, and we just couldn’t reach that compromise on where we should go.”

The two did have a dispute about how often they’ve met since both were elected in 2011. Reddick says it’s the first time they’ve engaged in a one-on-one meeting in the four-and-a-half years both were elected in 2011, but Buckhorn later denied that, saying that they had met before during their first terms in office.

Buckhorn’s executive order signed on August 28 called for the mayor to choose seven of the nine member board, as well as two alternates. That angered many Council members and members of the community, who say that it’s allowing the mayor too much control for the sensitive committee that would review police procedures and policies.

After weeks of protest, the mayor showed some movement last week by suggesting that he would be willing to give the council one more selection to the nine-person board, as well as one of the two alternates.

Chairman Reddick has proposed on his own a 15-member board, with the council having seven picks and the mayor getting eight. Reddick has said that would allow each council member the power to name an individual member to the board, but Buckhorn said today that he has no interest in going beyond the eleven total he’s listed in his executive order.

“It gets too big, too unwieldy,” the mayor said. “It dilutes the effectiveness of it.”

Council member Lisa Montelione had floated the possibility of a five-four split between the mayor and the council at last week’s Council meeting, but that never came to a vote after angry members of the audience began chanting, “No compromise!”, prompting the board to leave the daïs, not to return for several hours.

In a letter sent to the mayor earlier this week, Reddick had mentioned that the mayor should meet with members of the community who have been outspoken about their unhappiness with how he has handled this situation.

The activists have come together as a group calling themselves Tampa for Justice. They include members of the NAACP and ACLU, groups that Buckhorn said he didn’t have any interest in meeting with since they seem intent on calling for the civilian review board to have subpoena powers, which the mayor says will not happen.

When asked if he was concerned that it might come across as insensitive to snub those groups, Buckhorn pivoted to discuss his support specifically for the NAACP, both as mayor and as a citizen.

“First of all the city subsidizes the NAACP to the tune of $8,000, and we have for years and I’ve approved that every year,” he said, referring to a jobs training program. Saying he’s been a card-carrying member of the group for years (though not a lifetime member), he emphasized that his reference to “fringe groups” at one point did not include them.

“I’ve heard their concerns – they haven’t been shy about voicing them,” he said. “I know where they’re coming from. I understand that. Some of this I can’t do anything about, some of which I philosophically disagree with, but I don’t think (not) meeting with them is in any way, shape or form a sign of disrespect.”

ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon expressed his disappointment with his group not getting a chance to sit down meeting with the mayor on Friday.

“I thought Chairman Reddick was dignified and showed real leadership,” Simon wrote to SPB in an email. “It escapes me why the Mayor has apparently decided to take a divisive path and imperiously dismiss meeting with leaders of community organizations – some of which he has dismissed as ‘fringe.'”

Simon went on to say that if Buckhorn would be willing to speak with community leaders, “perhaps there could be a discussion about how the people of the City of Miami were able to adopt a civilian investigative panel that – legally has the power to subpoena documents and witnesses.”

Buckhorn said today that the Florida Police Bill of Rights precludes that from happening, and that only by Miami making an amendment to the charter allowed that to be permissible.

Thania Diaz Clevenger, Civil Rights Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Florida, said her office disagrees with that, and forwarded to reporters a legal opinion from the Florida Attorney General’s office that the organization says backs up that claim.

Buckhorn says he will review the council’s own prepared ordinance and his executive order and contact Reddick early next week with any proposed changes. The council will discuss the issue at their next meeting, scheduled for this coming Thursday, October 8.

Jeb Bush gets blasted for “stuff happens” remark about Oregon mass shooting

Jeb Bush received a torrent of criticism Friday afternoon after he said “stuff happens” in reference to calls for legislative action after the mass shooting that took place in Oregon on Thursday.

“I had this challenge as governor because we had — look, stuff happens,” he said at a forum in South Carolina. “There’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

He didn’t back down afterwards, changing “stuff” to “things.”

“Things happen all the time,” Bush said. “Things. Is that better?”

The group American Bridge later issued a statement listing Bush’s latest comment with other phrases he’s said on the campaign trail this year that have prompted criticism, such as saying that he would “phase out” Medicare, referring to “Anchor Babies,” and saying at an event in Iowa recently that “We should not have a multicultural society.”

In a speech that she is scheduled to give Friday night, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz blasted Bush’s comment.

“Yesterday, we witnessed yet another incident of gun violence at a community college in Oregon. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, but as the President said last night, that’s not enough,” she is scheduled to say. “380 Americans have been killed in 294 mass shootings in 2015 alone. We need to do something that prevents these mass shootings from happening – in our schools, in our churches, in movie theaters – again and again and again. John Kasich responded to Oregon by boasting about his A rating from the NRA.”

“Then this afternoon, Jeb Bush was asked about the incident. His response? ‘Stuff happens.’ I wish I was making that up, because it’s heartbreaking. Americans are killed and injured, families lose their loved ones, and an individual who wants to be the President of the United States shrugs his shoulders and says ‘stuff happens.’”

At a press conference, President Barack Obama was asked about the Bush response, after the latter part of the Bush quote was read out loud.

“I don’t even think I have to react to that one,” he said.

Obama then launched into a discussion of gun control, and said voters have to make themselves single-issue voters if they want to counter the influence of the National Rifle Association.

Alan Grayson again blasts Patrick Murphy for supporting Benghazi investigation

Last month Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alan Grayson bashed his chief rival for the Democratic nomination for Senate, Patrick Murphy, for being one of just seven U.S. House Democrats who voted to create the Benghazi Select Committee.

But after Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted on Fox News this week that the committee’s work had done its job in weakening Hillary Clinton‘s poll numbers during her presidential run, Grayson repeated his criticisms Friday morning in a conference call with reporters.

“From the beginning, the Benghazi Select Committee has been a partisan clown show, and everyone who was paying any attention to it would know that was exactly what would happen,” Grayson said, pouncing on McCarthy’s remarks.

The Orlando-area representative noted how four of those six other Democrats who voted alongside Murphy back in May of last year are no longer in office. Most were facing tough re-election races in a year that saw Republicans dominate in November. (Murphy wasn’t one of those incumbents, however, as he easily defeated his GOP challenger, Carl Domino.)

Grayson, like many other Democrats, has been outspoken in denouncing the congressional investigations into determining what went wrong back on September 11, 2012, when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Since then, there have been multiple investigations on the incident. South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy has been chairing the current investigation, and has insisted that politics would not play a part in it, but Democrats like Grayson have seized on McCarthy’s remarks to say that was never the case.

Grayson said the reason why Murphy voted for the current investigation is that he’s not a real Democrat.

“Everything that the tea party Republicans who run the Benghazi Committee have done, they’ve done with Patrick Murphy’s permission,” he said. “He joined with every single Republican in the House to vote for the establishment of this witch hunt committee.”

“Murphy has been a Republican all his life, until he decided to run for Congress,” added Grayson. (Murphy was a Republican before switching parties.) “His daddy bought him that seat, and Murphy has since kept voting like a Republican.”

Grayson also noted that Murphy has supported the Keystone XL Pipeline, which Clinton (finally) came out against last week.

In response, Murphy spokesperson Joshua Karp notes that when Murphy voted for the Benghazi investigation, “he was 100 percent confident it would vindicate Hillary Clinton, and he warned the committee must not be ‘used as a way to politicize this tragedy and the deaths of four Americans.'”

“But the Republicans turned this tragedy into a political circus, and U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy just admitted Republicans hijacked the committee for partisan gain. The House GOP should immediately shut down the committee,” Karp adds.

Murphy has endorsed Clinton for president, while Grayson remains undecided. He gave praise to her on the call, as well as saying positive things about Bernie Sanders.

Karp said Grayson was playing politics on Benghazi, too. “It is disgraceful for Alan Grayson, who is not supporting Hillary Clinton, to further politicize this tragic loss of life,” he said.

Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill to keynote FDP State Convention on Halloween

The Florida Democratic Party announced that U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri  will keynote the FDP’s October 31 dinner at the 2015 State Convention.

“Today we are thrilled to announce the Senator Claire McCaskill will keynote our 2015 State Convention dinner on October 31st.” said FDP Chair Allison Tant. “We couldn’t be more excited to have Senator McCaskill on our team as we head into such a critical election. Her incredible record as a glass-ceiling breaker is an inspiration to us all, and I can’t wait to hear from her Saturday night [October 31] as she gets Florida Democrats fired up and ready to win in 2016.”

McCaskill has been representing Missouri in Washington since 2006, when she defeated Republican incumbent Jim Talent in the year that saw the Democrats controlling both the House and Senate. She was re-elected in 2012, when she had the good fortune of facing Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, whom she ended up defeating by 15 percentage points.

She was a key ally for Barack Obama in his bid for president in 2008, and has already been utilized as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She irked Bernie Sanders supporters this summer when she called the self-avowed socialist as being “too extreme” for the American people.

“I think the media is giving Bernie a pass right now,” McCaskill said on MSNBC. “I very rarely read in any coverage of Bernie that he’s a socialist. I think everybody wants a fight and I think they are not really giving the same scrutiny to Bernie Sanders that they’re giving certainly to Hillary Clinton and the other candidates.”

And last month she suggested it would be unwise that Vice President Joe Biden to take on Clinton in the Democratic primary, saying, “I’m worried if he does and doesn’t do well; it will be hurtful to him, and we all care about him deeply.”

“I can’t wait to join Florida Democrats for their 2015 State Convention,” McCaskill said in a statement. “The Sunshine State will be crucial to our Party’s efforts to keep control of the White House and regain control of the Senate. Over the last seven years we’ve made incredible progress and now we must protect it. I look forward to joining Florida Democrats later this month as we celebrate moving our country forward and prepare for the work ahead. On to victory!”

The Florida Democratic Party’s 2015 State Convention will take place at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club in Lake Buena Vista from October 30 to November 1.

Mitch Perry Report for 9.25.15 — At least one MLB team wants to play in St. Pete (in the spring)

The saga of where the Tampa Bay Rays search for a new home is going on eight years now.

It was in November of 2007 when the Major League Baseball franchise held a news conference at the site of Al Lang Field to talk about building a 34,000-seat facility on the waterfront.

As we all know, that didn’t happen, and for all the words, press conferences, committees, and votes that have been conducted in the eight years since, nothing else of substance has either on this whole issue.

So it’s with some reluctance that I delve into the story this morning. However, thanks to the Atlanta Braves showing substantial interest in moving their spring training facility from Lake Buena Vista to St. Petersburg, we’re pushed backed into it.

The plan unveiled for the Braves this week is ambitious. It’s a 240-acre property that would include a stadium, arena, practice field and hotel rooms on the former Toytown landfill area in Pinellas County. The announcement led St. Pete City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes to ask the Pinellas County Commission and Tourist Development Council to set aside $6 million of the county’s bed tax for the Rays until something happens on the stadium front. Apparently, no one else on council or in the Kriseman administration was very moved by it, however.

The Kriseman proposal to do what needs to be done — have Stu Sternberg get the opportunity to meet with Hillsborough County officials about the possibility of building a new ballpark on this side of the bay – has been frozen for all of 2015, after four council members refused to go along with it.

With the regular season set to end after next weekend, the sides still aren’t going to get together anytime soon. However, if Lisa Wheeler-Brown defeats Will Newton in the District 7 council race on November 3, there would be a majority to vote to allow for the Rays to talk.

So unless something new happens, we’re not going to have any movement on this for awhile. And if Newton wins, well, perhaps another member of the council will reverse course on not allowing the Rays to talk.

Whatever. This issue’s been going on for way too long, but there isn’t any sense of urgency. Not with the Rays’ lease not ending for 13 more years.

Oh, and by the way, with six home dates left to go, it looks like the 2015 season will end with the Rays once again finishing the season with the worst home attendance in the league. Their 15,573 per game attendance makes the Rays the 30th out of 30 teams for another year, and one of only two teams (Clevealnd being the other) that is averaging less than 20,000 a game.

That’s a whole other column, though. I think the story about the Braves is that the Tampa Bay area, and Florida overall, is the perfect place for spring training baseball, when the weather is perfect in March. The regular season? I’d argue that the MLB experience since 1993 in Miami and ’98 in St. Petersburg has never, ever truly worked.

In other news..

Will the Tampa City Council and Mayor Bob Buckhorn be able to come to common ground on how many selections the council will get on the police civilian review board? The mayor says he’s willing to compromise by giving the council one more selection to the regular nine-member board, and one more alternate.

There’s a damning report released this week on the state of Florida providing unemployment benefits to those citizens who have earned those benefits.

If you were poised to travel to Brandon this morning for the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting, fuggetaboutit. Meeting’s been canceled, or postponed until December.

In the wake of the Go Hillsborough imbroglio, County Commission Chair Sandy Murman released a set of lobbying reforms. But a man who would like to join Murman on the BOCC next year, Democrat Brian Willis, says Murman’s reforms are weak tea as he unveils his own proposal. 

And Donald Trump may be getting crankier on the stump, but on the first full day of autumn he continues to be The Man atop two major national GOP presidential polls released yesterday.

Report says only 1 in 8 unemployed Floridians receives aid — lowest rate in the country

In 2011, the Florida Legislature began to impose sweeping new restrictions and procedural hurdles for Floridians applying for unemployment insurance. However, problems with the $60 million 2013 unveiling of the state unemployment website CONNECT forced applicants to wait months for their benefits.

According to a new report, those restrictions have made it so onerous for the jobless in Florida that fewer than one in eight unemployed workers receive unemployment benefits, the lowest recipiency rate in the country.

Ain’t No Sunshine: Fewer than One in Eight Unemployed Workers in Florida Is Receiving Unemployment Insurance is the new report issued from the National Employment Law Project. Among its revelations include:

  • Fewer than four in 10 Florida workers (39 percent) who apply ever receive a first payment, the second-lowest rate in the country, compared to 68 percent nationally;
  • The number of workers who have been disqualified for not satisfying procedural reporting requirements has quadrupled since online filing was mandated in August 2011, despite the fact that fewer than half as many individuals are claiming benefits; and
  • In 2014, the year following the launch of CONNECT, the number of disqualifications for work search and availability doubled from 64,000 to 137,000, despite a 20 percent drop in average weekly claims.
  • Cutting the maximum weeks of benefits available from 26 to its current limit of 14 weeks has contributed to the Florida unemployment insurance program no longer meeting its goal of serving as a bridge from the loss of one job to suitable new employment. Approximately 62 percent of eligible Florida claimants exhaust their UI benefits without having found a new job, the highest such rate in the nation.

“Unemployment insurance is a basic lifeline for America’s workers when they lose jobs through no fault of their own,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Workers earn these benefits through their work histories, and like any insurance policy, the purpose is to help provide needed financial support when there is a catastrophic event—in this case, involuntary job loss. What today’s report tells us is that over the past four years, the State of Florida has been thwarting the fundamental rights of its unemployed workers to apply and qualify for unemployment insurance.”

George Wentworth, senior staff attorney with NELP and one of the report’s authors, noted, “Filing for unemployment insurance in Florida operates like an obstacle course. Extremely large numbers of workers are being disqualified for reasons that amount to inability to successfully navigate various online transactions. Unemployed workers should not be treated worse in Florida than in other states. Florida’s workforce deserves an unemployment insurance program that is both fair and accessible. We believe that is their right under federal law.”

NELP and Florida Legal Services have jointly sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez citing the report’s findings and urging the Department of Labor to investigate claims that Florida is violating provisions of the Social Security Act that require state unemployment programs to provide fair access to benefits and prohibit substantial numbers of disqualifications to eligible workers.

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