Fla. House Would Toughen Unemployment Rules

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 4, 2011 --

The time frame for collecting unemployment benefits would be shortened under legislation put forth in the state House, trying to address a yawning state budget deficit and a growing federal IOU.

The measure also seeks to cut the burden on businesses, which pay into a fund that goes to pay jobless benefits.

Backers of the effort say the changes are needed to stanch the bleeding of the state’s unemployment system, which has been drained by prolonged recession and must now borrow from the federal government to pay claims. Unemployment tax rates have skyrocketed this year, with the jobless rate hovering at around 12 percent for most of the year. The state has borrowed almost $2 billion from Washington to pay claims.

Late Thursday, the House Economic and Tourism Subcommittee released a proposal making a number of significant changes to the duration of payments and the way unemployment benefits are paid. It’s the first proposal to be released on an issue that is expected to remain a focus during the 2011legislative session.

The plan would reduce the maximum length of state benefits from 26 to 20 weeks while keeping the maximum weekly benefit at $275. Federal benefits wouldn’t change – after state unemployment is used up, federal benefits kick in that take the total to more than 90 weeks of eligibility.

The bill would also tie the duration of benefits to the underlying unemployment rate. If the jobless rate remained above 9 percent, benefits would continue for 20 weeks. The duration of benefits, however, would ratchet back as the economy improves. For every half point drop in unemployment below 9 percent, the duration of benefits would drop by a week, falling to 12 weeks during periods when unemployment is 5 percent or lower.

“At first glance it appears to be good for business,” said Edie Ousley, spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber. “We’re looking forward to working with the lawmakers as the issue moves forward.”

Critics say the proposal saves money at the expense of jobless workers already saddled with mounting debt of their own as the economy continues to sputter and only slowly climbs out of the worst economic downturn most workers have seen in their lives.

“Where are the jobs that are not being filled by those who have “chosen” to stay on the couch?,” said Rich Templin, legislative affairs director of the Florida AFL-CIO. “The jobs simply aren’t there and this appears to be a mean-spirited attempt to blame the victims who want to work, but can’t find it.”

For employers, some of whom saw their unemployment compensation premiums triple as of Jan. 1, the proposal would reduce premiums by 10 percent by changing the formula by which they calculate past losses.

The bill joins SB 728, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and filed Jan. 31., which will be taken up Monday by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, which Detert chairs.

The proposal was released a day before federal officials reported that the national unemployment rate for January fell to 9.0 percent from 9.4 percent in December and 9.8 percent in November. It’s the largest two-month drop since 1958, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday. The nation’s manufacturing sector grew by 49,000 jobs, the largest increase since August 1998.

The news was tempered by the fact that non-agricultural employment increased by 36,000 workers, far less than the nearly 145,000 jobs economists had projected for the month. Federal officials blamed bad weather for the sluggish job growth, saying inclement weather across the country held back construction sector employment.

The construction sector lost 32,000 jobs in January, bringing its 12-month total to 130,000. Industry representative say the trend is not likely to trend upward anytime soon.

“With stimulus work starting to dry up, Congress proposing major funding cuts and private demand still weak, it is hard to see how the industry will add jobs this year,” said Ken Simonson chief economist for the Associated Contractors of America.

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  • by donald Location: tallahassee on Feb 10, 2011 at 04:46 AM
    Our country loves to do wasteful studies on this and that, I have an idea for a study. Why doesn't our government do a study and come up with the actual amount of what our tax money gives out to free stuff and 3rd world countries. like welfare, food stamps,free cell phone service, free health care,free legal service, and all the free forein aid we provide to 3rd world countries, and let the people vote to see if we want to give the money away for nothing. my vote would be for taking care of the elderly, who have worked and paid taxes. and the rest, if you don't want to work and pay taxes( GET OUT)
  • by GV Location: Ga on Feb 8, 2011 at 04:51 AM
    What is so hard for you people to understand?Do ya'll not reallize that if all the people who are scamming the system were takin off,then maybe it would be easier for the people who really need it to get it?
  • by corrine Location: Quincy on Feb 7, 2011 at 06:16 PM
    Most of you people talking that negative talk about unemployment are probably still working. Shame on you for being so mean and heartless. There are people out of work, collecting unemployment that are looking for work religiously and not just sitting on a couch looking at TV. I need the money (little as it is) to maintain some degree of dignity. Hardworking people have lost their homes and cars behind being unemployed. Not everyone is a deadbeat looking for a handout from the government. You may know people that are doing this, but it is who YOU know, not everybody. Keep your negative comments to yourself. If you have nothing positive to offer, don't say anything.
  • by THIS IS HOW THE GOVERNMENT WORKS Location: USA on Feb 7, 2011 at 03:37 PM
  • by Oz Location: Tallahassee on Feb 7, 2011 at 02:40 PM
    I believe the biggest problem with unemployment benefits as it is with welfare benefits is that you provide people with money but you do not provide them with mandated training programs to develop new skills that are actually marketable. For instance, if you are a laid off construction worker in a time period where there is not much construction happening in the economy, you may need to develop another skill that is mandated by the state or federal government. However, it is ludicrous for a state with such a high unemployment rate to deny benefits to people that really need it. What are Republicans and the Tea Party trying to prove. After all, do they believe that their homes will be safe if you have masses of hungry people wandering around. Yes, there are some people that play the system; however, that is just the way life is. We all play a system. When you go to work in the morning you put on a mask and pretend like it is what you want to do.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 7, 2011 at 12:54 PM
    Anonymous Location: Tallahassee on Feb 7, 2011 at 02:10 PM, How can the government open up any jobs. The Government can't create jobs. jobs are created by businesses when they provide goods and services that other people want and need.
  • by Tell D Truth Location: Havana on Feb 7, 2011 at 12:34 PM
    I am with you "What-is-going-on". When I became unemployed the government wanted to know my life history, about my car and house. Once you work you accure expense to take of your family and its hard for a citizen like you or me to even think about getting welfare. It just does not work for us. Instead they need a government proposal for generation welfarers. Government grocery where they will not be able to get top of the line foods, Government retail stores such as goodwill, family dollars, $1.00 store where they can get their essentials. If they do not want to work why do we as a government have to keep supporting people that are on welfare and do not want to hold any type of job or receive skills to obtain a job. I work with a couple of women are trying to make it off a $7.25 check with 4 or 5 children with little assistance from the state. lawmakers need 2 take work ethics in2 consideration when may not get hired because of who we are, not a friend or someone u know u will b hire.
  • by Jonathan Swift Location: Florida on Feb 7, 2011 at 12:08 PM
    A common theme has emerged from the shadows of GOP leadership. Attack the poor and middle-class, demonize the unemployed and disenfranchise any group who doesn't represent their core constituency: the wealthy. What paragons of evil they are. Ironically, they attend church---religiously---but do not even come close to practicing the words of Jesus. Some day the "useful idiots" of the GOP (poor and middle-class republican voters) will finally realize this.
  • by what-is-going-on Location: America on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:43 AM
    It si not unemployement that needs fixing. These people worked and lost their job because of the bad economy (mostly cause liberals in congress). What must be addressed is the waste on welfare, sectiion 8 housing, etc. How much has been spent on this over the years and no change for any of these people going into 4 or 5 generations on welfare (in 40 years no less).
  • by Anonymous Location: Tallahassee on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:10 AM
    This is how i feel about the whole situation: Instead of trying to cut employment benefits weeks why don't government do what they promised and open up jobs and opportunities for those out of work. One cannot make a living if the jobs are not there to apply for or if the employers are only hiring people they know because of family and friend affairs. If employers would stop being bias maybe Florida's unemployment would not be sky-high and so much money would be put into unemployment. But for the ones recieving unemployment benefits and still looking for work, how could you cut their benefits in a certain amount of weeks and they have families and themselves to take care of. I think that would prove Florida as being selfish and not willing to make a way so everyone can live comfortably. People are in different situations on this topic and I think it's absolutely ridiculous what Florida's government is trying to do.
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