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

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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.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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