New Limits on Jobless Benefits Moves Ahead in House

By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida
By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida


Breaking along party lines, a Republican-dominated House committee Thursday okayed a proposed rewrite of state unemployment compensation laws – cutting eligibility for Florida’s jobless and making it harder to claim benefits.

Representatives of the state’s business organizations said little, instead mostly just nodding as the House Finance and Taxation committee approved the legislation (HB 7005) on a 16-6 vote. Democrats sided with labor unions and advocates for low-income Floridians who warned that with unemployment nearly 12 percent and more than 900,000 jobs lost since the recession, the legislation could prove punishing to those out of work.

But Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said the legislation was needed to help businesses struggling to meet rising unemployment tax rates caused by having shed so many jobs. He likened the relationship between workers and their bosses to a marriage, saying there needs to be some give-and-take.

According to Florida Revenue Department figures, 75,832 employers went out of business last year.

“There is no employee without an employer,” Fresen said. “We have to assure there is a climate where businesses can grow.”

But Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, said the GOP was effectively advancing a “socialized bill,” because it shifts costs away from businesses by limiting benefits to unemployed workers. In turn, many of these jobless Floridians will be forced onto state Medicaid rolls and other taxpayer-financed assistance programs, Randolph said.

Another Democrat, Rep. Joe Abruzzo of Wellington, said he liked some features aimed at denying benefits to those gaming the system. But Abruzzo said he couldn’t support reducing the number of weeks Floridians could qualify for unemployment pay.

“That, to me, is too much – and too burdensome for families,” Abruzzo said.

The legislation mirrors a proposal unveiled earlier this month by Gov. Rick Scott, which reduces the duration of state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, while maintaining the current maximum payment of $275-a-week.

Like Scott, the House plan also would tie benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. The period a jobless worker could receive a check would fall to a maximum of 12 weeks if unemployment hits 5 percent or less.

The reductions would only affect Floridians joining the jobless rolls after the legislation becomes law. Federal unemployment benefits, which currently extend as long as 99 weeks, could still kick-in when state coverage is exhausted. Critics pointed out, though, that the most generous federal standards are scheduled to end this year.

The legislation, sponsored by Economic Development and Tourism subcommittee Chairman Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, emerged from recommendations pushed by a business coalition, including the National Federation of Independent Business, the Florida Retail Federation, Associated Industries of Florida and the state Chamber of Commerce. The Senate version of the legislation is (SB 728) is scheduled to get its first hearing Tuesday in the Commerce and Tourism Committee.

Along with reducing benefits, Holder's measure also adds new authority for employers to challenge a fired or laid-off worker’s claim. The drive to change the system is prompted by business groups panicking over rate hikes – with this year’s minimum levy scheduled to climb from $25 per worker to $72.10 per worker this spring. Employers pay the full rate.

In June, another $10 will be added to these payments to cover interest owed on the $1.8 billion the state has borrowed from the federal government the past two years to maintain the state’s depleted trust fund for jobless benefits. The Obama administration has proposed allowing states to postpone these interest payments, but ruling Republicans in the House and Senate instead say they are intent on tightening the state’s system.

Holder defended the measure’s attempts at toughening the standards for jobless workers seeking benefits and requiring those seeking benefits to undergo a skills review.

“This is a great way to give unemployed Floridians a hand up, and not a hand out,” Holder said.

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  • by Kevin aka Reality Location: Monticello on Feb 20, 2011 at 08:02 AM
    Truth is ...if youre Unemployed ...Employers say its YOUR fault , must be performance related. They are only interested in targeting those that ALREADY have jobs. Period. Good night all , and Good Luck. Well need it.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 19, 2011 at 11:27 AM
    State officials had plenty of warning. Over the past three decades, two national commissions and a series of government audits sounded alarms about the dwindling amount of money states were setting aside to pay unemployment insurance to laid-off workers. "Trust Fund Reserves Inadequate," federal auditors said in a 1988 report. It's clear now the warnings were pretty much ignored. Instead, states kept whittling away at the trust funds, mostly by cutting unemployment insurance taxes at the behest of the business community. The low balances hastened insolvency when the recession hit, leading about 30 states to borrow $41.5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to their growing population of jobless. SO NOW WE THE PEOPLE HAVE TO PAY FOR POLITICAL MIS MANAGEMENT? I SAY IT'S TIME TO MAKE THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE PAY FOR IT
  • by libby Location: taylor on Feb 19, 2011 at 07:04 AM
    that seems pretty cold. the rich got their 200 billion in tax breaks so the uneployed could get their 12 billion in uneployment. now they want to stick it to the uneployed even more and try to take it back. PRETTY NASTY. there are not many people hireing. they are not looking at the one's that are trying just the one's that are abuseing the system. how can you keep your family going on uneployment and then have that took from yoy? cold cold cold cold. these idiots have a good job they are not woried about you.
  • by Lip Cheese on Feb 18, 2011 at 10:58 PM
    Man, it is sure looking grim overall out there. Good luck all, hang can only starve to death once. There is a bright side to everything!!!
  • by No surprise Location: does it matter? on Feb 18, 2011 at 02:18 PM
    Nothing new to see here. Move along...
  • by an employer on Feb 18, 2011 at 12:26 PM
    as a employer, that has not layed anyone off but has just about depleated my personal savings keeping my busness afloat. I can tell you that our goverment, local, state and federal are not doing anything that helps the small busness. If you are big busness, "too big to fail", you get everthing. And if you think that messing with the unemployed is going to help me, think again. My tax rate is at the max. now. Help the american tax payer, the working man and women and thing's will get better. I have faith in the american people but our government.
  • by Kevin aka Reality Location: Monticello on Feb 18, 2011 at 10:01 AM
    The TRUTH is , there are several people , myself included who have Degrees in Business related fields that cant seem to get hired , not because we dont look for jobs....but because Employers are more worried about filling EEO requirements than putting the RIGHT person to work.
  • by Kevin aka Reality Location: Monticello on Feb 18, 2011 at 09:58 AM
    I am begining to see Neither Party represents the Good of the Common American. One would have us give up our Rights and Freedoms , the other , because of a few bad seeds ...would have us starve in the streets. If you want to cut Welfare spending , you find those who do drugs and arent eligible , not cut off the entire program from those who need it. Same with anything. If you have a broken arm ... you get surgery , not an AX removal. It is perhaps time the PEOPLE of America took back Government. Because , right now , they say , as King George VI did "let the people eat cake."
  • by truth hurts on Feb 18, 2011 at 09:49 AM
    Long overdue. Funny how people seem to find jobs when their feet are to the fire. Time to put your big boy panties on Liberals.
  • by Just saying Location: Tallahassee on Feb 18, 2011 at 09:18 AM
    @ Don. One of the questions you are asked when you file for unemployment is: Have you turned down an offer for employment? There should be some type of cross check in place so that applicants can not get away with false answers to this question. Just saying.
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