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Deal struck to further cut Florida unemployment benefits

TALLAHASSEE — Out-of-work Floridians would receive fewer state benefits while businesses pay less tax under a controversial proposal approved Friday by a divided Legislature.

The deal, which Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign into law, immediately cuts unemployment benefits by 11.5 percent.

Jobless Floridians would continue to receive a maximum payment of $275 per week, among the lowest of any state in the country. But they would be paid for no more than 23 weeks, instead of 26.

Cutting the number of weeks was a victory for Scott and the Republican House, which had fought Senate sponsor Nancy Detert to reduce the number of weeks. The bill, HB 7005, passed along party lines in both the Senate and the House.

The bill also creates a sliding scale that cuts and adds weeks of benefits based on the unemployment rate. Unemployment compensation would drop to as low as 12 weeks if the average unemployment rate drops to 5 percent or lower. A week would be added for every 0.5 percent the jobless rate climbs.

The change also cuts by 10 percent the business tax that pays for unemployment benefits.

"It's a great gift to the business community," Detert said of the bill.

Detert, R-Venice, had refused to reduce the maximum number of weeks but ultimately relented under pressure from her fellow Republicans, many of whom preferred to cap benefits at 20 weeks.

"Some of you wanted to cut the weeks, anyway, so that will make you happy," Detert told Senate lawmakers.

The bill also makes it easier for a business to show employees were fired for cause, preventing them from receiving benefits. Unemployment tax rates for businesses are largely tied to the number of former workers receiving jobless benefits.

"It's a disaster," said AFL-CIO spokesman Rich Templin.

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.

Deal struck to further cut Florida unemployment benefits 05/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 9:38pm]
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