TALLAHASSEE — The time length of state unemployment benefits would be shortened under legislation put forth in the House, which is trying to address a yawning state budget deficit and a growing federal IOU.
The measure also seeks to cut the burden on businesses, which pay into a fund that goes to pay jobless benefits. Backers of the effort say the changes are needed to stanch the bleeding of the state's unemployment system, which has been drained by prolonged recession and must now borrow from the federal government to pay claims.
Unemployment-tax rates have skyrocketed this year, with the jobless rate around 12 percent. The state has borrowed almost $2 billion to pay claims.
Late Thursday, the House Economic and Tourism Subcommittee proposed a number of significant changes to the duration of payments and the way unemployment benefits are paid.
The plan would reduce the maximum length of state benefits from 26 to 20 weeks while keeping the maximum weekly benefit at $275. Federal benefits wouldn't change — after state unemployment is used up, federal benefits kick in and take the total to more than 90 weeks.
The bill would also tie the duration of benefits to the unemployment rate. If the jobless rate remained at or above 9 percent, benefits would continue for 20 weeks. Then, for every half-point it dropped, benefits would end a week earlier, falling to 12 weeks if unemployment were at 5 percent or lower.
"At first glance it appears to be good for business," said Edie Ousley of the Florida Chamber. "We're looking forward to working with the lawmakers as the issue moves forward."
Critics say the proposal saves money at the expense of jobless workers saddled with mounting debt of their own.
"Where are the jobs that are not being filled by those who have "chosen" to stay on the couch?" asked Rich Templin, legislative affairs director of the Florida AFL-CIO. "The jobs simply aren't there, and this appears to be a mean-spirited attempt to blame the victims who want to work, but can't find it."
For employers, some of whom saw their unemployment compensation premiums triple as of Jan. 1, the proposal would reduce premiums by 10 percent by changing the formula by which they calculate past losses.
The bill joins SB 728, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, which will be taken up Monday by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, which Detert chairs.