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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Florida's rotten record on helping jobless

A report this month cements Florida's standing as the worst provider of unemployment insurance in the nation. The state's shameless attempt to save money at the expense of one of its most vulnerable populations is responsible for the dubious distinction. The Legislature should reverse the onerous eligibility requirements it created for qualified applicants for jobless benefits and force state officials to do right by the unemployed.

The National Employment Law Project released a report showing that Florida provided jobless benefits to a paltry 11 percent of eligible Floridans in 2015. The state's percentage of unemployed who qualify for and receive unemployment benefits was the lowest in the country. The ranking follows a report from June 2014 to June 2015 in which Florida provided help to 12 percent of eligible residents.

The state's ridiculously low rate is largely a result of a systemic effort to cull the rolls of people who receive unemployment insurance. A 2011 state law created a series of restrictive eligibility rules designed to make it more difficult to receive unemployment benefits. For example, job seekers are required to provide weekly documentation to prove that they are looking for work. That resulted in large numbers of people being disqualified for unemployment benefits. That shouldn't be a point of pride but a signal that something is drastically wrong with the qualification procedure.

Four of the five lowest-ranking states, including South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, also have adopted significant cuts to benefits. With the exception of North Carolina, each of the states adjusts its available weeks of benefits on a sliding scale based on the unemployment rate. Florida has cut the maximum length of unemployment benefits to 12 weeks, less than half the national average in 2015.

Florida's leaders are in denial. Rather than see the state's poor distribution of unemployment insurance for what it is, they prefer to focus on job creation. The state has created 1 million jobs in five years. But the numbers don't speak to the quality of the work, as many of the new positions are low-paying hourly jobs that do not amount to a living wage for families.

The state boasts that only 65,000 people are receiving unemployment insurance, a dramatic decline from 730,000 in 2010. That sharp decrease is a result of the state's relentless campaign to manipulate the qualification process and the botched debut of an online application system that still performs below expectations. It is unconscionable that Florida continues to try to save money on the backs of jobless workers at one of the most trying times in their lives. They are entitled to jobless benefits, and the state should make it easier to apply for those benefits and keep them rather than devise ways to deny those who need help.

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