by Dotie Joseph in the Miami Herald
In 1998, the maximum unemployment benefit a Floridian could get was $275 a week. Today? The exact same $275 a week. It has stood stagnant for almost 24 years, making Florida one of the stingiest states in the country for benefits paid to people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, from funds they themselves worked to accumulate.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ refusal to increase that paltry payout and the rejection of federal supplements when made available in 2021 only make matters worse for the temporarily jobless. I filed legislation to increase the minimum payout by $100 a week, which would bring it in the medium range compared to other states. The bill also sought to increase the maximum benefit period from 12 weeks to 14 weeks, which is still little compared to the 26 weeks it used to be prior to the damaging changes made in 2011 under then-Gov. Rick Scott.
During the previous session, this exact same legislation passed unanimously in the Senate, but when DeSantis expressed his disinterest or displeasure, the GOP-controlled Legislature quickly abandoned this relief for Floridians. During this legislative session, which recently ended, the bill did not get a hearing in either chamber.
The governor needs to reconsider his position, and if a special session is convened, the Legislature absolutely should address this basic, nonpartisan issue. Making people suffer for ideological talking points is not a virtue. And forcing workers to empty their savings when they lose work because of something beyond their control is beyond unfair.
In short, our unemployment compensation system is broken and, during the pandemic, it was on display for all to see. While my Democratic colleagues and I sought a special session to address these and other issues during the pandemic, those requests were flatly denied. We were told to wait, and that the “reemployment” system would be addressed during the regular session. And all we got was more money thrown at computer systems that continue to break and frustrate financially challenged Floridians.
We can and should do better by the people of Florida. Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, deserve it. I just hope people remember when election time comes.
State Rep. Dotie Joseph represents District 108 in the Florida House.