225,000 Floridians Saved From Poverty by Jobless Funds

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Florida's poverty rate and the percentage of Floridians without health insurance rose in 2009 to exceed the national level, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

But billions of dollars in stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have helped struggling Floridians. About 225,000 have been kept from falling below the poverty level by expanded federal unemployment compensation benefits. They are among the almost 1.2 million jobless Floridians who have received $3.7 billion in federal unemployment benefits from the Recovery Act.

More Floridians could be aided by $444 million in federal money available to Florida if the legislature modernizes the state's unemployment system.

Poverty and Uninsured Facts for Florida

Florida data from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey:

o Florida's 2009 poverty rate of 14.6 percent represents 2,676,000 Floridians with incomes below the federal poverty level. ($22,128 for a family of four in 2009). The poverty rate rose from 13.1 percent in 2008 and 12.5 percent in 2007, before the economic downturn hit Florida. Fifteen states recorded higher 2009 poverty rates than Florida.

o The number of Floridians without health insurance totaled 4,118,000 in 2009, or 22.4 percent, well above the 20.0 percent in 2008 and much higher than the national rate of 16.7 percent. Only Texas (26.1 percent) has a higher rate of uninsured.

o Uninsured Florida children under age 18 also increased to 724,000 from 676,000 the previous year, or 17.9 percent - highest in the nation and well above the 10.0 percent national percentage. But the number of Florida uninsured children still remains below the 771,000 in 2006 and 785,000 in 2007, when some barriers to Florida KidCare enrollment were eased.

How Recovery Act Funding Has Helped Limit Poverty

Without billions of dollars in funding from the federal government for extended unemployment compensation, Florida's poverty rate would have risen higher.

A new national analysis reports that expanded unemployment compensation kept 3.3 million Americans out of poverty in 2009. Florida's 1,055,000 unemployed workers are 7 percent of the nation's 14.9 million unemployed, so expanded benefits kept an estimated 231,000 Floridians from falling into poverty.

Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation reports that through July it has paid $3.7 billion in unemployment benefits to 1,186,652 individuals from Recovery Act funding.

The Recovery Act aided Florida in other ways. Social Security and food stamp benefits were increased and billions of dollars has been plugged into the state budget over the last two years for public schools, universities, and health care services through Medicaid. Economists believe the unemployment rate would have been higher if not for this assistance.

What Else Could Be Done to Help Struggling Floridians

Less than a third of the unemployed in Florida actually receive unemployment compensation, about 10 percent below the national rate. Modernizing Florida's system, as most states have done, would help more Floridians and allow the state to receive $444 million more in federal jobless funds. Each dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates $1.64 in economic activity, economists say.

Florida law excludes a worker's most recent work history - a provision enacted before the age of computers, when work and pay records required detailed processing sent through the mail. More than 64,000 Floridians are denied benefits because of this outdated provision, according to FIU's Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy.

Legislative action in 2010 would benefit these Floridians and help the state recover from the recession.

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