By
Cindy Huddleston
|
April 2, 2021

Unemployment Insurance Bills to Watch in 2021

This post was last updated on September 10, 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.

The pandemic has revealed Florida’s Unemployment Insurance program (called Reemployment Assistance (RA)) to be replete with outdated policies and procedures that create unnecessary barriers, making it difficult for workers to qualify. Although many Floridians only learned about these barriers during COVID-19, the program has been fundamentally flawed and neglected by lawmakers for years.

While policymakers used to describe unemployment as a serious threat to Floridians, one that crushes unemployed workers and their families, the Legislature has minimized its impact for decades. By design and neglect, Florida’s RA program falls far short of addressing the economic blowback of unemployment on households who lose jobs.

Even so, many lawmakers this session are singularly focused on fixing either CONNECT, the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO)’s computer system, or one or two isolated problems with the RA program, instead of the myriad laws and policies that underpin — and undermine — the program.

Below are UI reform bills to watch during the latter half of legislative session.

Comprehensive UI Reform Legislation

Despite the demonstrated need for a massive overhaul of Florida’s RA program, only one piece of legislation, House Bill (HB) 207 and its companion, Senate Bill (SB) 592, takes a holistic approach to UI reform. Among other things, this legislation would:

  • Set up a RA Ombudsman Office to help UI claimants resolve questions, disputes, delays, or complaints;
  • Increase the maximum weekly benefit amount to not less than $100 or more than $500, which would provide out-of-work Floridians with an allotment that better helps the household pay for necessities;
  • Require an alternate base period, which would allow low-wage and seasonal workers, as well as workers with inconsistent work schedules, to qualify for UI;
  • Commence unemployment assistance as of the date of unemployment, regardless of the date on which a claimant applies;
  • Ease job search hurdles by requiring that claimants contact at least three prospective employers each week, instead of five;
  • Require DEO to allow alternative methods for individuals to submit a claim for benefits, such as by telephone or email;
  • Broaden eligibility for people who accept part time work;
  • Reduce the monetary eligibility requirement from $3,400 to $1,200 in total wages in the base period, which would allow claimants to establish eligibility even if they have been unemployed for a long time or did not make much money; and
  • Increase the duration of assistance to 26 weeks (up from the current maximum of 23 weeks) without the convoluted formula currently in law that sets duration based on the three-month average unemployment rate for the most recent third calendar year quarter.

Bills That Would Partially Improve Florida’s Broken UI System

For now, SB 1906 and Committee Substitute (CS) for SB 1948 (CS/SB 1948) [1]  are the fastest moving UI reform bills in the Legislature. Unfortunately, although both contain reform measures, neither of these bills takes as integrative an approach to UI reform as does HB 207/ SB 592.

Improving CONNECT and Increasing Accessibility

CS/SB 1948, which does not have a companion in the House, seeks to ensure that DEO’s online claims system more efficiently accommodates RA applicants.  Among other things, CS/SB 1948 would require that the system not only be accessible through mobile devices and personal computers, but also be adequate to process claims and appeals. In addition, CS for SB 1948 would shorten the time that employers must respond to the notice of claim to 14 days (down from 20).

Increasing the Maximum Weekly Benefit

SB 1906, which also lacks a companion bill in the House, would increase the maximum weekly benefit amount to not less than $100 but not more than $375.  

Of course, boosting benefit amounts is a much-needed fix to RA. After all, Florida law currently sets the maximum weekly rate at $275 a week, which is lower than what it was two decades ago.

Conclusion

No one fix is adequate to achieve the demonstrated reform to RA that Florida needs. 

There is no good reason why lawmakers cannot fix CONNECT and address inadequate duration and benefit amounts, monetary requirements that keep out low-wage workers, application procedures that limit filing methods, the alternate base period, and other antiquated barriers that dimmish the hard work and needs of Floridians impacted by unemployment.

The public meltdown of Florida’s UI program during COVID-19 has put the need for a complete overhaul of the program front and center. If lawmakers are serious about tackling reform, comprehensive UI reform is the only solution to reversing the decades of neglect that have significantly diminished the rights and needs of Florida’s workforce.

 

Notes

[1] Other bills that have been filed this session to amend Florida’s RA laws include Senate Bills 466, 644, 910, and 1996

Downloadable Resources

There are no attachments currently.
This is some text inside of a div block.

Fixing Florida's Unemployment Insurance System

Florida workers deserve a system that buoy them, just as they do our economy

Learn More