Hastings Joins Frankel and Florida Democrats in Urging Governor DeSantis to Fix Florida’s Broken Unemployment Benefits Program

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Fort Lauderdale, FL, April 7, 2020 | comments

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) joined Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL, Members of Florida’s congressional delegation and Members of the state legislature in sending a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis with urgent recommendations for how to improve the Florida unemployment system. The letter was signed by Frankel, Hastings, and Representatives Donna Shalala (D-FL), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Val B. Demings (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Al Lawson, Jr. (D-FL), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), in addition to fourteen members of the Florida state legislature (Please find below and attached a copy of the letter).

"I have heard from far too many of my constituents whose livelihoods have been devastated by this pandemic. Congress has provided robust relief to help the State of Florida serve the unemployed, now it is time for Governor DeSantis to move swiftly to remove barriers that are blocking Floridians from accessing these benefits they deserve," said Hastings.

“Many families across the state are facing devastating financial distress because of loss of work due to the coronavirus pandemic. Governor DeSantis must take immediate action to boost benefits and fix the claims process,” said Frankel.

The letter text is below:

April 6, 2020

The Honorable Ron DeSantis
Governor
Office of Governor Ron DeSantis
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399

Dear Governor DeSantis:

As you are aware, unemployment in Florida is skyrocketing, through no fault of workers who are being laid off and told to stay home. Last week over 237,000 Floridians applied for unemployment insurance benefits, with thousands more unable to use the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO’s) broken website. Sadly, these figures will continue to multiply in the coming weeks.

This letter focuses on the inadequacy of Florida’s unemployment insurance benefits, especially as compared to other states with similar costs of living, and provides recommendations on how to improve. We have five requests that we expand upon below: 

1. Extend the length of Florida’s unemployment benefits from 12 weeks to 26 weeks;
2. Significantly increase the maximum benefit from $275 per week to be comparable to states with similar costs of living;
3. Utilize available federal funding under the CARES Act that provides thirteen additional weeks of state benefits; and
4. Make benefits payments retroactive to when an individual became unemployed;
5. Take all necessary action to make the claims process quick and efficient.

The amount and duration of Florida’s unemployment insurance benefits are severely inadequate and out of step with the rest of the country (Attachment 1). Florida provides only twelve weeks of unemployment insurance and caps the benefit at $275 per week. This combination of low pay and shortened eligibility is among the least supportive benefits program in the country, despite Florida’s relatively high cost of living. Florida is one of only nine states that does not offer at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Florida’s current unemployment benefit is far lower than minimum wage, and hundreds less than the average weekly earnings of workers in Florida. States with similar costs of living, offer nearly twice the amount of unemployment compensation (Attachment 2). For example, Utah provides an unemployment benefit of $543 per week, and North Dakota provides $595 per week. We are requesting that you take either emergency executive action, call the Florida legislature into session to take action, or take other appropriate steps to increase the amount and duration of the benefits.

Additionally, under the CARES Act, Florida is eligible for federal funding to provide an additional thirteen weeks of state unemployment benefits beyond what is provided for by the state. If you have not already so, we ask that you contact the Department of Labor and take any necessary steps for Florida to take advantage of this expanded eligibility.

As you are aware, Florida’s unemployment benefits only begin at the time that an individual’s application is processed. And, there have been significant issues with the DEO’s website and application portal, which compounds the challenges Floridians are facing. Congressional offices are being flooded with complaints from constituents who are unable to use the web page to process their claims. Given the delay to make a claim, through no fault of the applicant, we request that unemployment benefits begin retroactively to when the individual lost their job, rather than when their application is processed.

Last but not least, we urge you to hire more workers, repair the deficiencies, and update the web page to reflect current federal and state law, in languages sensitive to our population. The digital and paper claim forms are requiring claimants to answer questions that are irrelevant and confusing during this pandemic. Please make it clear that those who are self-employed are also now eligible to apply.

In summary, we are requesting that through executive action, with legislative support, or through any other appropriate means, you make the necessary changes to Florida’s unemployment compensation program: to increase the amount and duration of benefits, take advantage of new available federal support, make benefits retroactive to loss of employment,  and fix the confusing dysfunctional claim process.

We appreciate your full and fair consideration of our request and your attention to this important matter.

Attachments:
1. Comparison of Unemployment Benefits by State
2. Comparison of Cost of Living by State

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings serves as Vice-Chairman of the House Rules Committee, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida Delegation.

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