by Jeremiah Tattersall
Field Staff, Florida AFL-CIO, North Central Florida Central Labor Council
The novel coronavirus has thrown Florida’s fragile economy into disarray, and tens of thousands of Floridians are facing sudden job losses and personal financial crises. Simply put, the State of Florida must do everything in its power to stave off the severity of an economic downturn and support working people.
But Florida’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) system is on the front line of this economic crisis and it simply isn’t up to the task.
Unemployment Insurance was designed to help workers and their families, but also to be a vital tool for economic stimulus, giving workers spending power to keep local economies from collapsing.
Over the past twenty years, the Florida Legislature has refused over $800 million in federal funds to modernize the system, and in 2011, Governor Rick Scott signed legislation that made it almost impossible for workers to access, shortened the time workers are eligible for benefits and made it much easier for employers to deny any benefits. If workers can access the system, their benefits are capped at a meager $275 per week. In fact, Florida’s UI system has been ranked dead last in the nation!
Florida’s UI Trust Fund has the resources to assist working families and our state’s economy. There is currently $4 billion in the UI Trust Fund; that money needs to get out the door, into the pockets of the working families who need it and then into our local economies to help minimize the coming economic catastrophe.
Every $1 paid in benefits generates $1.64 in economic activity! A reliable UI system is essential for stopping the spread of coronavirus. In order for Florida to effectively contain COVID-19, Floridians must stay home. However, any quarantine measures will inevitably fail if Floridians do not have the financial security they need to pay their bills.
Governor DeSantis must do more to immediately modernize this system by both increasing benefits and removing unhelpful and unnecessary barriers so the sudden influx of unemployed Floridians can get financial relief now.
The Governor attempted to pass the buck to the state legislature saying he cannot make certain changes. This isn’t true but he still refuses to call a special session. State Senator Keith Perry and Representative Chuck Clemons seem equally uninterested in addressing the structural issues underlying the current UI system.
Please go to flworkersneedrelief.com to sign the petition to fix the Unemployment Insurance system. Also, please call the following politicians and urge them to call a special session to address the crisis.
Rep. Chuck Clemons – 352-313-6542
Senator Keith Perry – 352-264-4040
Gov. Ron DeSantis – 850-717-9337