Bill with more ‘hoops’ for unemployment benefits advances in House

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'We have one of the lowest recipiency rates for unemployment in the state already, and this bill is creating some additional hoops.'

Legislation requiring more stringent verification of those applying for unemployment insurance benefits and imposing more work search requirements to stay on the rolls is gaining ground in the House, passing through its second committee reference.

Critics contend the bill (HB 1289) puts more hurdles in the way of getting benefits that are already meager. But Rep. Shane Abbott, a DeFuniak Springs Republican sponsoring the bill, defended it as a way to help people get back to work, pointing to another provision designed to match applicants’ skill sets with job openings.

“The goal is not to increase poverty. The goal is to get people into jobs and positions that get them out of poverty,” Abbott said.

The bill requires the Department of Commerce to verify the identities of those applying for unemployment insurance benefits with eight different federal agencies, and kick people off the benefit rolls if they don’t contact five employers per week or accept “suitable work” when it’s offered.

It passed on an 8-4 vote along party lines through the House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, with Democrats opposed. Rep. Rita Harris, an Orlando Democrat, said in addition to blocking access to benefits for the jobless, it would overburden the Department of Commerce.

“We have an agency that’s already understaffed and overworked,” Harris said. “I just can’t see giving our government agencies that much more work to do when they’re already trying to keep up with the caseloads that they have.”

Florida’s unemployment system is already one of the stingiest in the country. The maximum benefit per week is $275, one of the five lowest among states, and the amount hasn’t been changed since 1998.

But even getting the benefits has gotten more difficult in the last 15 years. In 2011 the system was renamed “reemployment benefits” under then- Gov. Rick Scott, and lawmakers reduced the number of weeks to get benefits and imposed skills tests requirements.

In 2013, a switch to a new system to handle benefits applications led to a large backlog that lasted for months. The problem subsided as the state recovered from the Great Recession and the jobless rate fell. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the system was again swamped and a large backlog returned as hundreds of thousands of Floridians surged it with applications.

Now, with the unemployment rate at a low ebb, critics of the bill worry it will make it harder for those out of work to get benefits.

“We have one of the lowest recipiency rates for unemployment in the state already, and this bill is creating some additional hoops,” said Karen Woodall, Executive Director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.

Gray Rohrer


  • Pathetic

    February 13, 2024 at 11:36 am

    Republicans really hate people who “haven’t got theirs,” don’t they? And laughingly they’ll say they’re Christian in the same conversation that they want to further eviscerate assistance for those in actual need.

    • KathrynA

      February 14, 2024 at 9:30 am

      So agree!

Comments are closed.


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