Saturday, April 21, 2018
Business

Groups claim thousands being denied jobless benefits in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A national workers' rights group has filed a federal complaint over Florida's revamped unemployment compensation system, claiming that the Sunshine State has become the most difficult place in the nation for unemployed people seeking benefits.

Last year, Florida overhauled its unemployment compensation system, reducing the number of weeks available and enacting several new requirements for those seeking jobless benefits.

The National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services say those changes have slammed tens of thousands of unemployed Floridians. The complaints say only 15 percent of eligible unemployed Floridians are actually getting benefits, ranking Florida dead last in a nation that averages 27 percent.

"When you take all of these (changes) together, you've created a program that has erected insurmountable barriers for people who are eligible," said Valory Greenfield, staff attorney at Florida Legal Services.

The groups have asked U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to investigate.

Under the new law, which went into effect last August, job-seekers who want to receive the roughly $275 weekly unemployment checks must complete a 45-question "skills review" test and provide documentation showing that they are actively looking for work. Most applicants have to apply online, as the popular option of filing claims via telephone was eliminated last year. The skills test alone has nixed more than 40,000 eligible applicants, according to the complaint.

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, who has pushed to overhaul the state's unemployment benefits system, stood by the reforms, saying the test helps make sure unemployed people have the right skills for the labor market.

"Requiring jobless Floridians to take a skill assessment test is the right thing to do, not just for them, but also to ensure Florida's tax dollars are spent on making sure our workforce is the most qualified in the nation," Brian Burgess, a spokesman for Scott, said in an email.

The Department of Economic Opportunity, which runs the benefits program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

In a letter to Solis, Florida Legal Services and NELP highlighted data showing that Florida is denying applicants for jobless benefits at rapidly increasing rates. The number of unemployment compensation applicants who have been denied has increased 66.7 percent in Florida since last year, according to federal data compiled by NELP. In the first three months of this year, 86,627 applicants were denied benefits, compared to 51,981 during the first three months of last year.

Between June and December 2011, the number of people who filed initial claims for unemployment compensation dropped 15.7 percent in Florida, compared to 5.2 percent nationwide. Since Florida has been creating jobs at a slower rate than the national average, it is not likely that the state's steep drop in initial claims can be attributed to more people finding work.

Still, Scott often points to the slimming unemployment compensation rolls as evidence that his administration has been effective at helping people get off government assistance and back into the private sector. Scott signed the new law last year and has pushed other reforms in an attempt to rebrand the unemployment compensation system as a "reemployment assistance" program.

"About 230,000 people that were on unemployment when I took office are not on unemployment now," Scott said in a radio interview last month.

Greenfield says those numbers only tell part of the story.

"It's disingenuous to push the success of a program that got people off benefits who might not be working," she said. "They might be homeless and they might be going without food."

April's state unemployment rate fell to 8.7 percent, down from 10.6 percent in April 2011. More than 800,000 Floridians are currently unemployed. Earlier this month, federal extended unemployment compensation benefits ended for several thousand Floridians.

Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ToluseO

Comments
Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

When Samantha Hess’s marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Tampa Bay foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa has violated numerous rules of professional conduct and caused two clients to nearly lose their homes because he failed to tell them about settlement offers from their banks. Those were among the prelim...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Times staffThe greater Brandon area will celebrate the grand opening of its second Goodwill store beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday (April 28) at 1407 U.S. 301. The new store will add another 12,000 square feet to the complex, which includes a 200,000-...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

State regulators Friday determined that one of the country’s largest residential solar companies, San Francisco-based Sunrun, is allowed to lease solar energy equipment for homes in Florida. The decision, solar energy advocates say, could open the do...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

For the sixth month running, Florida’s unemployment rate held at a nearly 11-year low of 3.9 percent in March as steady job gains continued. While many factors kept Florida’s economy chugging along, three industries stand out for leading year-over-ye...
Published: 04/20/18
Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

ST. PETERSBURG --- Stretched across the front of Tim and Hyun Kims’ two-year-old house is a big banner with the name of a developer and the words: "I have to fix my new house."Some of what needs fixing is instantly apparent. The front steps are too ...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Walmart director of corporate communications Phillip Keene to chat about the retail giant’s latest retail strategies and how the company is winning over customers in a competitive market.Already, two of the ...
Published: 04/20/18
SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

Associated PressNEW YORK — SunTrust Banks Inc. says accounts for 1.5 million clients could be compromised following a potential data breach. The Atlanta bank says that it became aware of the potential theft by a former employee and that the investiga...
Published: 04/20/18
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18