[UPDATE] 3-10 10am -- David Royse, The News Serive of Florida --
The House is set to vote Thursday on a dramatic reduction in the amount of benefits the state would provide to the unemployed, part of an effort to help businesses reduce how much they pay into the system and maybe put some of those people back to work.
The latest state figures on how many Floridians remain out of a job will also be released Thursday, but economists have said there’s not a lot of hope that the January rate that state officials will release Thursday morning will be a lot lower than the 12 percent unemployment that’s nagged the state’s workforce for months.
The bill (HB 7005) the House is set to vote on would keep the maximum benefit amount for the unemployed at $275 a week, but would reduce the amount of time people could collect those benefits.
Right now, the maximum time limit is 26 weeks, which would drop to 20 weeks under the House plan, and could get even shorter if the economy improves. If unemployment were to drop below 5 percent, the maximum would be 12 weeks under the proposal.
The measure would also make it easier for the state to disqualify certain workers for the circumstances under which they lost their previous job.
The bill, which has wide support in the Republican-controlled House, is aimed at lowering the amount of money employers must pay into the unemployment fund, which is currently broke. The state has been borrowing from the federal government to pay benefits.
“The bill is designed to balance the needs of employers with the needs of the unemployed, and get the unemployment compensation trust fund on the road to solvency,” said its sponsor, Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota.
Republicans brought the measure to the House floor on Wednesday, and knocked down several Democratic attempts to weaken it. Beaten back were amendments to keep the length of benefits the same, and another to put into place what’s called the alternative base. That’s an effort to count more recent previous work when calculating eligibility for benefits, which advocates for the unemployed say is easy with modern technology.
But doing so would cost more – the exact opposite of the intent of the bill, Holder said.
The House has set out a time limit for debate on the contentious measure, with each side being allotted 30 minutes on Thursday. The bill would still need Senate approval. A Senate measure attempting to tackle the unemployment issue seeks to change certain benefit eligibility rules, but doesn’t shorten the length of time during which benefits can be awarded. The measures don’t affect additional federal jobless benefits that kick in after state compensation is exhausted.
The discussion of the bill on the House floor Wednesday came as unemployed workers and their supporters rallied outside the Capitol.
One of the rally speakers, Badili Jones of Florida New Majority, said the bill attacks unemployed workers.
“We are here to reclaim the dignity of working people who have been let go through no fault of their own,” he said. “In a situation where over a million people in Florida are unemployed, where people are being foreclosed, where people are being evicted, where people are not able to feed their children…they are saying that you need to tighten your belt even tighter.”
March 9, 2011 -- Lanetra Bennett --More than 200 unemployed and concerned Floridians from across the state gathered in the back of the state capitol Wednesday morning.
Their rally was in opposition to House Bill 7005, which they say is an attack on unemployed workers and public workers.
The group says "NO" to job cuts and want legislators to get their message loud and clear.
Badili Jones, Florida Majority Political Officer, said, "A lot of them are millionaires themselves and can't really speak to how people today in 2011 are trying to manage their lives and put food on their table and support their children and save enough money for their children's future."
The protesters say the one million unemployed people in Florida are already having a hard time finding jobs without having to deal with more job and benefits cuts.
At the end of the rally, the protestors marched inside of the capitol and held a soup kitchen, to sort of symbolize how many of the families who are unemployed have to survive.
They say they just want lawmakers to consider legislation that will help people find jobs with liveable wages; and they say the unemployment system needs to be modernized.