Florida has some of the lowest unemployment benefits in the nation, and Democratic lawmakers are pushing to boost the numbers for the unemployed.
The legislation aims to make policy changes that would increase eligibility for claimants, while raising the maximum weekly amount for unemployment benefits by $100 — from $275 to $375 per week. The legislation would also increase the number of weeks claimants are able to receive benefits — to 14 weeks instead of 12 weeks.
[Mississippi has the lowest unemployment benefit in the nation, at $235. Arizona is next, at $240, but that ends in July, when it goes up to $320. Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama remain tied for the lowest weekly benefit of $275, but Florida’s is still the stingiest at 12 weeks, while the other three states, plus Mississippi, all offer up to 26 weeks.]
But two bills, SB 1568 and HB 1489, haven’t gotten a lot of traction in the GOP-controlled Legislature this session.
Following the COVID-19 crisis, Florida’s unemployment system has seen some improvements for jobless workers filing claims, — though it’s not enough, says Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy at Florida AFL-CIO.
“They’ve made some tweaks to the computer system, but they have done absolutely nothing to repair the policies that led to the collapse of our system,” Templin said during a press conference in the Florida Capitol. Templin was joined by Democrats in the Legislature who sponsored the bills, state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Orlando and state Rep. Dotie Joseph of Miami-Dade.
Templin pointed to the unemployment system crashing in 2020, saying a lot of Floridians didn’t get unemployment because “they were deemed ineligible.” But so far, the bills haven’t gotten a hearing, and the session will end in about mid-March.
Bracy said during the news conference that he recalls a single mother who called crying about issues about receiving unemployment benefits after losing her job earlier in the pandemic.
“And she admitted to me that she was suicidal,” Bracy said. “We need to focus on helping people when they’re at their most vulnerable to get them back on their feet. We are elected by the people to serve the people. Let’s do our job and let’s pass this bill.”
Rep. Joseph said she had received “countless calls during the pandemic” from constituents who struggled with getting unemployment benefits.
“Right here we have filed this bill because it’s important, whether it gets a hearing or not,” she said. “I stand here frustrated…But frustrated on behalf of the Floridians who are trying to make ends meet.”
–Isaac Morgan, Florida Phoenix