Sen. Bobby Powell and Rep. Anna Eskamani introduced legislation Wednesday in an effort to “modernize and revamp” Florida’s current unemployment benefits system, which Eskamani called “disastrous.”
The legislation (HB 207, SB 592) would update the state’s current unemployment system by expanding benefits and setting guidelines for the office, as well as create an oversight office for the department.
“Economic issues impact you no matter who you are, and we saw that during the COVID- 19 pandemic, where folks were directly losing their jobs and facing financial circumstances they never, ever thought they would be in,” Eskamani said. “We wanted this bill months ago, let me be clear.”
The state’s current unemployment system allows for a maximum weekly payment of $275 for 12 weeks. The new legislation, though, would set Florida’s weekly benefit amount to a maximum of $500, and it would also increase the amount of time an individual can receive benefits to 26 weeks — the national average.
Under the new legislation, the Department of Economic Opportunity would be required to provide an eligibility determination to a Floridian seeking benefits within three weeks.
The bill also seeks to make the department more accessible by requiring the department to accept claim submissions via mail and online, as well as provide at least two other methods for people to submit claims, such as phone or email.
“We have been in this crisis for months, and I am so glad that we are now finally back in Tallahassee to address these issues,” said House bill co-sponsor Ben Diamond. “Lord knows that Floridians have been asking for relief and help in navigating the system for months.”
It would also create an oversight branch of the DEO that would give continuous feedback to how the department can improve. Powell likened the office to the Insurance Consumer Advocate.
“It’s about making government work better,” Powell said.
The bill would provide adjustments to address seasonal workers and farm workers.
As far as bipartisan support, Eskamani is hopeful that the recent engagement between constituents and legislators navigating the system will create stronger consequences for state representatives.
“I do think that there’s a whole new degree of engagement for the greater public and we’re definitely going to be doing our part to connect the dots for folks and get them involved in the process,” Eskamani said.