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Study: Even fewer jobless Floridians are receiving un­em­ploy­ment benefits

Only 11 percent of jobless Floridians received any money through unemployment insurance last year. [Associated Press (2014)] 
Published Feb. 11, 2016

It's gotten even tougher for jobless Floridians to get unemployment benefits as they try to get back to work.

In fact, only 11 percent of jobless Floridians received any money through unemployment insurance last year, cementing the Sunshine State's status as the worst in the nation in that category.

Again.

At the other end of the spectrum comes North Dakota, where a relatively robust 66 percent of the jobless received benefits at some point last year.

Those are among the findings of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group that routinely examines what's known as the "recipiency rate" for unemployment — the percentage of jobless who qualify for and receive funding from their states' unemployment insurance trust funds.

With the exception of North Dakota, all state programs compensated fewer than half of their jobless workers last year with the median state, Oklahoma, covering about 28 percent.

The report pointed out that four of the five states with the lowest recipiency rates in 2015 — including Florida — adopted significant cuts to available weeks of benefits starting in 2011.

Florida has adjusted its available weeks of benefits based on a sliding scale tied to the unemployment rate. So as its unemployment has dropped to its current rate of 5 percent, the availability of benefits has shriveled to a maximum of 12 weeks, less than half the national average.

As recently as 2009, more than 30 percent of jobless Floridians were receiving unemployment benefits.

The steady erosion, advocates say, is also tied to a law passed in 2011 that requires those seeking benefits to routinely report information about their job search, which has accompanied a steep rise in people being disqualified from benefits for not following the proper procedure. NELP has called the Florida's filing requirements "among the most onerous in the country."

The unemployed were also hampered by the problematic rollout of the state's electronic system to manage unemployment benefits, known as CONNECT. State audits have called for major changes to CONNECT to improve access.

"I definitely think Florida has the least accessible unemployment insurance system in the country," NELP senior counsel George Wentworth said Wednesday. "Not much doubt about that."

Wentworth also was critical of recent attempts to ferret out fraudulent claims, saying the state is weeding out many qualified applicants.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which manages the unemployment program, has repeatedly rejected using Florida's recipiency rate as a gauge for how well it is handling the state's jobless, saying a better measure is how it helps people get back to work.

"Florida has created 1 million jobs in just five years and only 65,000 people receive re-employment assistance — down from 730,000 in 2010," DEO spokeswoman Morgan McCord said. "The creation of more jobs in Florida and the state's unemployment rate continuing to drop is good news, regardless of what NELP's report might claim."

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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