Make us your home page
Instagram

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 tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter @ToluseO

Groups claim thousands being denied jobless benefits in Florida 05/24/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 6:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Did Hurricane Irma speed the end of Florida orange juice?

    Agriculture

    Hurricane Irma plundered Florida's orange belt, leaving a trail of uprooted trees, downed fruit and flooded groves worse than anything growers say they have seen in more than 20 years.

    A large number of oranges lie on the ground at the Story Grove orange grove in the wake of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 13, 2017, in Lake Wales. [Photo by Brian Blanco | Getty Images]
  2. St. Petersburg's newest hotel opens with craft beers, cocktails and Cozy Corners

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — Last spring, Ryan Tarrant applied for a job with the new Hyatt Place nearing completion in downtown St. Petersburg. Among the questions an interviewer asked:

    What does this hotel need to succeed?

    Hybar, a bar area with outdoor seating  that will feature craft drinks and Sunday brunch starting Oct. 1, is ready to open at the new Hyatt Place hotel at  25 2nd St. N in downtown St. Petersburg. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. Culver's crosses into Brandon near Selmon Expressway

    Business

    BRANDON — Like many children, Theresa Hutchins recalls pleading with her parents to take her for ice cream.

    Theresa Hutchins and her fianc? Mike Carelli opened the Tampa Bay area’s newest Culver’s August 28 in Brandon at 2470 S Falkenburg Road.
  4. Back to life: Event helps Riverview revert to peaceful pace after Irma

    Human Interest

    RIVERVIEW — Robin and Ray Castell say establishing residency in the Winthrop Village was one of the best decisions of their lifetime.

    hillsbrandon092217: Meredith Tucker of Riverview, the mother of two children and another one soon on the way, browses the racks of Dot Dot Smile children?€™s clothing as company merchandiser Kelcie Schranck, standing behind her in the black shirt, looks on during the first-of-its-kind Recruiting the Community event on Sept. 17 at the Barn at Winthrop in Riverview. Photo by Joyce McKenzie.
  5. SEC says hackers may have profited from stolen info

    Business

    The Securities and Exchange Commission says its corporate filing system was hacked last year and the intruders may have used the nonpublic information they obtained to profit illegally.

    In this file photo, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman nominee Jay Clayton testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. The SEC says a cyber breach of a filing system it uses may have provided the basis for some illegal trading in 2016. [AP file photo]