Report: Florida’s Unemployment Insurance Program Shuts Out Jobless

Only 1 in 8 Unemployed Floridians Receives Jobless Aid—Lowest Rate in Nation

Washington, DC—Four years ago, the Florida legislature began to impose sweeping new restrictions and procedural hurdles for jobless workers applying for unemployment insurance. The effect of those restrictions and hurdles has been devastating: today, less than one in eight unemployed workers in Florida (just 12 percent, compared with 27 percent nationally) receives jobless aid—the lowest recipiency rate in the nation, according to a new report from the National Employment Law Project.

The report examines the impact of changes to Florida’s unemployment insurance program since 2011 and concludes that by systematically making it harder for jobless Floridians to access benefits, the state now ranks at or near the bottom nationally in helping unemployed workers.

“Unemployment insurance is a basic lifeline for America’s workers when they lose jobs through no fault of their own,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Workers earn these benefits through their work histories, and like any insurance policy, the purpose is to help provide needed financial support when there is a catastrophic event—in this case, involuntary job loss.”

Owens continued: “In the 80 years since the Social Security Act was passed, states have been held responsible for operating unemployment insurance programs that are both fair and accessible. What today’s report tells us is that over the past four years, the State of Florida has been thwarting the fundamental rights of its unemployed workers to apply and qualify for unemployment insurance.”

In 2011, the state legislature enacted a law that slashed the maximum duration of unemployment benefits and required applications to be submitted online. Thousands of unemployed workers ended up being denied benefits because of problems completing the online application and other online transactions using the poorly designed automated system. After one year, new benefit applications had declined by 23 percent, and first payments had fallen 40 percent (compared to drops in corresponding national rates of 9 and 10 percent, respectively).

Things only got worse. The disastrous launch of a new automated filing system known as CONNECT in October 2013 caused months-long benefit delays for thousands more workers and has accelerated the decline in the share of workers receiving benefits. Other measures showed equally bleak results:

  • Less than 4 in 10 Florida workers (39 percent) who apply ever receive a first payment, the second-lowest rate in the country, compared to 68 percent nationally;
  • The number of workers who have been disqualified for not satisfying procedural reporting requirements has quadrupled since online filing was mandated in August 2011, despite the fact that fewer than half as many individuals are claiming benefits; and
  • In 2014, the year following the launch of CONNECT, the number of disqualifications for work search and availability doubled from 64,000 to 137,000, despite a 20 percent drop in average weekly claims.
  • Cutting the maximum weeks of benefits available from 26 to its current limit of 14 weeks has contributed to the Florida unemployment insurance program no longer meeting its goal of serving as a bridge from the loss of one job to suitable new employment. Approximately 62 percent of eligible Florida claimants exhaust their UI benefits without having found a new job, the highest such rate in the nation.

George Wentworth, senior staff attorney with NELP and one of the report’s authors, noted, “Filing for unemployment insurance in Florida operates like an obstacle course. Extremely large numbers of workers are being disqualified for reasons that amount to inability to successfully navigate various online transactions. Unemployed workers should not be treated worse in Florida than in other states. Florida’s workforce deserves an unemployment insurance program that is both fair and accessible. We believe that is their right under federal law.”

NELP and Florida Legal Services have jointly sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez citing the report’s findings and urging the Department of Labor to investigate claims that Florida is violating provisions of the Social Security Act that require state unemployment programs to provide fair access to benefits and prohibit substantial numbers of disqualifications to eligible workers.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT: Ain’t No Sunshine: Fewer than One in Eight Unemployed Workers in Florida Is Receiving Unemployment Insurance


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