This month, the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services have called for an investigation in order to overturn newly implemented unemployment benefits restrictions that were passed in August. The regulations have made Florida the most difficult state in the country in which to receive jobless benefits. Instead of rewarding Florida’s falling unemployment percentage, Florida’s legislators have implemented a series of hoops that applicants must jump through, which has successfully prevented more than 43,000 applicants from receiving benefits.
Compared with 2011, denials of benefits are up 200 percent in the first three months of this year. Valory Greenfield, a senior attorney with Florida Legal Services, upholds that this is due to the vague and incoherent conditions applied by the state.
The denials were predicated on procedural errors, meaning those applying for benefits did not complete the initial skills review. The review is a new requirement consisting of a 45-question assessment that is supposed to only be used to determine continuing eligibility. The complaint by NELP and Florida Legal Services states that the review is being used as a prerequisite for benefits, and it is not made clear to applicants the review must be completed within a certain time frame to be eligible. The state has also done away with the option to file for unemployment over the phone, limiting access to those without computer availability.
The state’s requirement of a skills assessment and logging potential employer contact is not unreasonable, yet these specific requirements create unnecessary obstacles for those applying for benefits, benefits that they are qualified to receive. There are already several stipulations put in place that regulate who is eligible to receive benefits, the process doesn’t need to be made even more taxing.
Florida has not been immune to the sluggish economic climate, and Florida’s legislators need to acknowledge the give-and-take relationship of this cycle before slashing benefits programs and denying the unemployed much-needed assistance. Rick Scott’s initial campaign pledge to create 700,000 jobs in seven years has unsurprisingly fallen by the wayside, and if the state isn’t going to deliver, then it should not punish the unemployed by denying so many applicants assistance on small technical discrepancies.
Florida’s current unemployment rate is at the lowest in three years at 8.7 percent, which is another reason jobless benefits need to be more accessible. Instead, the lower the unemployment rate gets, fewer benefits will be given. As it stands, once the state’s jobless rate reaches 5 percent, those eligible will only be able to claim unemployment for 12 weeks. The new requirements need to be overturned as they create unnecessary hurdles for those trying to receive assistance.