With Congress finally passing the federal extension to unemployment compensation benefits and the president expected to sign it, about 250,000 Floridians whose benefits had run out over the past couple of months will soon be tossed a financial lifeline. But some Floridians will be needlessly left behind because of the Legislature's neglect. • By failing to extend the deadline for long-term benefits, the Legislature has denied thousands of jobless Floridians 20 weeks of additional federal unemployment benefits. State leaders could have prevented that during Tuesday's brief special session, but they were too busy thumbing their noses at Gov. Charlie Crist and doing the bidding of Big Oil. Now the state is in a bind, with unemployed Floridians the losers.
It's a bit confusing, but there are different programs of federally funded unemployment compensation. The federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides a total of 53 weeks of jobless benefits beyond the 26 weeks granted by the state. Floridians will still qualify for this help. But what Floridians will lose out on is a program known as Extended Benefits, which grants the long-term unemployed an added 20 weeks of unemployment compensation — paid for entirely by the federal government.
Thousands of Floridians are in this predicament, where they have exhausted the first 79 weeks of unemployment compensation and still can't find a job. That is no surprise with an unemployment rate of 11.4 percent. For them, another 20 weeks of help could spell the difference between keeping a place to live or losing a home to foreclosure and eviction, or between having a working car and gas to job search or not. And the injection of this extra federal cash would have provided more economic stimulus for the state.
For Floridians to qualify for extended benefits, all that needs to happen is a change in a statutory cutoff date, currently set at June 5. Crist is being asked to adjust the date by executive order, but it isn't clear that he has the authority.
During Tuesday's special session debacle, Democrats pleaded with Republican leaders to consider the issue and were disregarded. Getting something accomplished would have ruined House Speaker Larry Cretul's Crist-bashing party. The Ocala Republican blamed Crist for wasting taxpayers' money on a worthless special session. Now lawmakers may have to return to Tallahassee — and cost taxpayers — again.
Extended benefits for jobless Floridians are too important to wait. If Crist can't fix the law alone, then the Legislature needs to reconvene as soon as possible and make the fix.