House Would Toughen Unemployment Rules

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

Tallahassee, FL - 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 nonagricultural 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 Sebastian Location: Destin on Feb 7, 2011 at 07:19 AM
    I see where this type of tough love is being pushed in others states. I applaude it so much that my company is alerting other states employment divisions that this plan is a workable solution and it will in some part deter freeloading and encourage the newer/younger workers out there that they need a fiscal plan to survive in case their job goes bye bye. These are teachable moments and for some it may be too late, but there others taking your place that will need to be better informed.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 5, 2011 at 07:52 AM
    Kick the illegals out. That will create jobs.
  • by Lip Cheese on Feb 4, 2011 at 07:46 PM
    Wow, this is good news for me. The threat of unemployment and reduced benefits at a time when I am still working chronically ill with no insurance. How much are they spending on Gary Michael Hilton's trial??? He looks good though, glad they are taking care of him.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 4, 2011 at 07:09 PM
    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.” ONCE AGAIN KICK THE LITTLE GUY
  • by Anonymous on Feb 4, 2011 at 07:09 PM
    I hope voters put some tough requirements on the employment of politicians. Let them 'enjoy' some unemployment time too! Before many jump on this as being a good thing, remember many businesses would rather pay the unemployment'tax' than keep individuals working. It is cheaper (less wages, insurance, workmans comp, safety gear, training expense,payroll expenses and unemployment tax) for the companies to let go of workers than keep them. The unemployment tax should be an incentive to keep people employeed. Your boss does not really care if you can`t pay your bills or clothe and feed your family - he is only concerned about his own welfare and now the Legislature wants to put more burden on the unemployed worker - that is SSOOOO wrong.
  • by Nascar Dad Location: Tallahassee on Feb 4, 2011 at 06:59 PM
    I appreciate Peltier's attempt to make the unemployment numbers look good, but the bottom line is the unemployment rate is fictitious. The number of people in this report NOT counted in the labor force increased by 2.2 million over the last year, which is why the unemployment figure has been coming down. The labor force participation rate in this report is 64.2%. It hasn't been that low since 1984, 26 years ago. Dem's and liberals will try to spin this fake 9% number as something positive, and as usual will show their absolute ignorance.
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