April 6, 2021

Inequities in Reemployment Assistance in Florida: Pandemic Data Raises More Questions Than It Answers

This post was last updated on December 8, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

Executive Summary

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) is not providing enough information about the resolution of Floridians’ claims for Unemployment Insurance (UI or unemployment assistance) during COVID-19. The limited data that DEO has made available raise serious questions about inequities and contain gaping holes about who is getting denied and the reason for denials. 

Florida Policy Institute’s analysis of recent U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey and DEO data found that Florida workers of color, workers in poor health, and those paid low wages have struggled to access state and/or federal UI benefits:

  • Black and Latino workers who apply for UI benefits are less likely than white applicants to receive assistance. Twenty-three percent of Black applicants and 28.5 percent of Latino applicants said that they did not receive unemployment assistance, compared to 15.3 percent of white applicants.
  • Workers in poor health are less likely to receive assistance than workers in better health. Almost half of UI applicants in Florida whose health is poor said that they did not receive unemployment assistance, a much higher rate than that reported by applicants in better health. Yet poor health does not in and of itself make a claimant for UI ineligible in every instance.
  • The massive job loss figures from Florida’s Leisure and Hospitality sector do not align with UI claims from workers in the industry. Despite shouldering the bulk of job losses in Florida, Leisure and Hospitality workers make up only 19 percent of all initial claims filed in Florida since the start of the pandemic.

The state collects much more information about claimants and the resolution of their claims than it reveals publicly. Neither the public nor state officials should be left to imagine what barriers may be thwarting the eligibility of workers trying to access help. More detailed data is necessary to help identify and solve systemic problems with Florida’s UI system. Having a comprehensive picture of what is happening to UI claimants — and why — is a critical first step to devising solutions to Florida’s broken UI program.

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