Sunday, April 22, 2018
Opinion

Denying unemployment benefits is now good news?

There's a nifty little fact on Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity website.

If you go to the page where folks file claims for unemployment benefits, it cheerfully points out that the number of individuals seeking benefits declined from 556,941 to 325,448 in Rick Scott's first 17 months as governor.

That's just wonderful. Uplifting. One might even say it's terribly impressive.

One might also say it is horribly misleading.

You see, Florida isn't really efficient when it comes to actually providing unemployment assistance for its residents. Based on U.S. Department of Labor statistics, Florida is dead last in the nation in the percentage of unemployed workers receiving benefits.

Color me pinko, but I'm not sure that's something to brag about.

Now there are a lot of reasons why only 16 to 17 percent of Florida's unemployed have been receiving state assistance in the past couple of years. For instance, a lot of those unemployed have already maxed out their benefits. And others were not in their jobs long enough to qualify for unemployment insurance.

But there are some workers' rights groups who also believe a significant factor is policies enacted during Scott's tenure that have made it more difficult to apply for assistance.

"If you just look at the number of applicants that were disqualified in the first seven months this process was in place, it tells you something is wrong," said George Wentworth, a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project.

"The process is not supposed to be a game of 'gotcha,' but that's what they're turning it into."

The U.S. Department of Labor is currently investigating Florida based on a complaint filed in May by the National Employment Law Project and the nonprofit group Florida Legal Services, according to Wentworth.

(Perhaps Labor folks should ask for hotel suggestions from Department of Justice investigators who came here to look into allegations of voter suppression, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

The issue with unemployment benefits stems from Florida's decision to eliminate telephone call centers and require all claims be made through the Internet.

The key word is all.

Don't have a computer? Tough. Canceled your cable and Internet service when you lost your job? Tough. Don't understand the online application? Tough.

Most states have an Internet claim process, but they also provide telephone applications for those uncomfortable or without access to computers. Florida is alone in this all-or-nothing policy. And it also extends to documentation of job searches submitted electronically every week.

This might explain why in the first quarter of 2012 more than 60,000 workers were denied benefits for procedural reasons, an increase of more than 200 percent from the year before.

Now historically, in times of recession, the percentage of unemployed receiving benefits has dipped. Accordingly, the average numbers have roughly gone from 37 percent to 27 percent around the country. Florida, however, has declined at an even more rapid pace.

"Some people have suggested there is an unspoken desire to limit assistance to the very, very persistent and the very, very tech savvy," said attorney Valory Greenfield of Florida Legal Services. "It's hard to imagine anyone would own up to that type of evil intent.

"I prefer to believe they just didn't think it all the way through when they came up with this process."

If that's the case, they still aren't thinking.

The state is now considering eliminating notices via the U.S. mail and requiring all correspondence be done through email.

Comments
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18