Saturday, November 18, 2017
Business

Florida pays off federal loan used to keep unemployment benefits flowing

RECOMMENDED READING


Here's one more sign Florida's jobs market is reviving: The state has paid back the $3.5 billion loan it needed to pay weekly unemployment benefits during the economic crisis.

The final payment of $9.2 million was made Tuesday and went toward interest, according to the Florida Department of Revenue. Total interest paid on the loan was $99.5 million.

The state's Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund was intended to be self-sustaining, with employers taxed quarterly on employee wages. During the recession, however, the fund went insolvent as Florida was squeezed from both sides: more people were applying for unemployment benefits while Florida had fewer and smaller companies putting income into the fund.

In August 2009, Florida began dipping into a federal loan program, one of 36 states to seek a federal bailout for their trust fund at some point over the last four years. So far 14 states have paid the money back.

To repay its debt, Florida used more than $3.1 billion from employer tax collections and $390 million from a tax credit through the Federal Unemployment Tax Act.

About 252,000 Floridians were receiving what the state now calls "re-employment benefits" as of the week ended May 18, roughly half the number from three years ago, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

DEO spokesman Jessica Sims said there was no specified payoff schedule for the loan, but noted Florida has moved much quicker than some other large states, notably California and New York, which still have large outstanding balances.

David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said putting the unemployment trust fund back in the black showcases the success of Gov. Rick Scott's job creation strategies.

"Florida's unemployment rate has dropped from 11.1 percent to 7.2 percent since Gov. Scott was elected, and ultimately, putting Floridians back to work through private-sector job creation is the best way to keep our unemployment compensation system financially sound," Hart said.

Job creation, however, wasn't the only thing that helped the state rebuild its trust fund coffers so quickly. Many jobless Floridians weren't eligible for aid from the fund.

Studies have shown it's not only tougher for jobless workers to receive unemployment benefits in Florida than practically any other state, but the payouts are also among the lowest nationwide.

"The question is how did (the fund) get to zero," said Mike Evangelist of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. "True, the economy is improving, but the bigger story is the benefit cuts that were made."

The average weekly unemployment payout in Florida is $231 with state benefits running out after 19 weeks. Unemployed Floridians may be eligible for up to 25 more weeks of federal benefits beyond that.

About 70 percent of Floridians receiving state benefits run out of eligibility before finding a job, "by far the highest exhaustion rate in the country," Evangelist said.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor slammed the state of Florida for making it difficult for some unemployed people to get jobless benefits, particularly the disabled and those who speak Spanish or Creole.

Federal officials found that Florida violated the civil rights of unemployed individuals, beginning in 2011, when it required them to apply online for benefits and take a 45-question "assessment" to gauge their skills before receiving an unemployment check.

State officials challenged many of the initial findings but said they would work with the federal government to improve aid to the jobless.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

Search suspended for missing Cortez boater who left from Egmont Key

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for a missing 63-year-old boater on Sunday evening, two days after he and his dog were reported missing five miles northwest of Mead Point, just inland from Anna Maria Island.On Friday, Fraser Horne of Cortez...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Parents, children welcome downsized MOSI in Tampa

Parents, children welcome downsized MOSI in Tampa

TAMPA — Avery, 6, slid his sneakers up the side of 200-pound rubber tire from the space shuttle Columbia and sat on top.His father, Ilder Jeannot, called for him to get off of it — usually climbing on museum displays is frowned upon. But in the new M...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sunday Conversation: Tona Bell invites customers to enjoy a ‘digital detox’

Sunday Conversation: Tona Bell invites customers to enjoy a ‘digital detox’

Like so many small businesses, Saturday will represent a special day for Paper Seahorse owner Tona Bell. Bell’s cozy bungalow business at 211 S Howard features paper and stationery, specialty pens, vintage typewriters and crafts classes. It will offe...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

As economists predicted, the tough hit that Florida jobs took from Hurricane Irma was not long-lived. The state added 125,300 jobs in October, almost breaking even from the 127,400 jobs it lost in September. According to state figures released Friday...
Published: 11/17/17
Apple will postpone release of  HomePod

Apple will postpone release of HomePod

The Washington PostApple said Friday that it’s pushing back its plans for a Siri-powered smart speaker until sometime early next year.The HomePod speaker was announced in June, with an initial launch date set for December. Apple said that its smart s...
Published: 11/17/17
HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

ST. PETERSBURG — Good Housekeeping and St. Petersburg-based HSN have chosen five finalists for their entrepreneur competition. The partners are searching for a novel item to promote as endorsed by the Good Housekeeping Seal, denoting reliability and ...
Published: 11/17/17
Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

How are we doing?That was the Big Question posed more than once this past week in Tampa Bay. First, the Tampa Bay Partnership and USF debuted in-depth and new ways to measure Tampa Bay across a wide range of indicators to gauge whether we are gaining...
Published: 11/17/17
Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

The main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial trucking industry.B...
Published: 11/17/17
We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

What one thing could be added to the Tampa Bay startup community to help it grow and prosper?The Tampa Bay Times reached out to these leading area entrepreneurs and startup experts for answers.RELATED COVERAGE: Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? D...
Published: 11/17/17
Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Plotting a shopping strategy for the holiday weekend? Here’s a look at holiday store opening hours for some major retailers:Thanksgiving8 a.m.: Kmart1 p.m.: JCPenney4 p.m.: GameStop5 p.m.: Best Buy, Macy’s, Toys "R" Us, Kohl’s6 p.m.: Old Navy, Target...
Published: 11/17/17