While the Florida Senate is making bipartisan moves to loosen the state’s vice-like grip on unemployment benefits, the House so far hasn’t followed suit.
A Senate bill (SB 1906) would increase the maximum weekly unemployment benefits from $275 to $375 and increase the duration of unemployment benefits from 12 to 14 weeks.
That bill is now ready for the Senate floor.
Two Democratic amendments were added to the bill during an Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday.
One provision, offered by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jason Brodeur, and Democratic Sens. Jason Pizzo and Bobby Powell, would tie the duration of unemployment benefits to the state’s most recent unemployment rate.
Under the amendment, the maximum number of weeks someone could receive unemployment benefits is 25 weeks, but only if the state’s monthly unemployment rate is 10.5% or higher. Previously, a similar provision was tied to a yearly unemployment rate that quickly became outdated during the pandemic.
The amendment also prohibits the denial of unemployment benefits based solely on a woman being pregnant.
Another amendment filed by Sen. Gary Farmer would increase the initial claim processing time.
Senators voted in favor of the two amendments and the bill.
“I’m happy to support anything that provides more benefits to unemployed Floridians. I’m sure that this bill is going to at least give us a much better position than we were in last year,” Sen. Linda Stewart said.
Florida tied for 47th in the U.S. in average weekly unemployment benefits, according to a recent analysis by Forbes Advisor. Additionally, most states offer 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.
The Senate bill also relaxes some of the job prospecting requirements to receive unemployment. For example, when claimants are proving they contacted prospective employers, claimants would no longer have to include the telephone number of each prospective employer, and the requirement to list an address of a prospective employer can now be taken to mean a website address, a physical address, or an e-mail address.
Claimants also wouldn’t have to contact as many prospective employers. The bill reduces a requirement to contact five employers each week to three. And the bill allows resumes submitted online to count as employer contact.
The Revenue Estimating Conference has not yet estimated the fiscal impact of the bill.
While Brodeur’s bill is advancing, the Senate had no shortage of options to solve the issue.
Sens. Pizzo, Stewart, Randolph Bracy, Annette Taddeo and Powell all filed legislation to increase the state’s weekly unemployment benefits by varying amounts.
But the enthusiasm for increased unemployment benefits by the Senate has not been met by the House. There is no companion legislation in the lower chamber, which means even if the bill passes the Senate floor, it faces a steep climb through the rest of the Process.