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pandemic has revealed Florida’s Unemployment Insurance program (called Reemployment Assistance (RA)) to be replete with outdated policies and procedures that create unnecessary barriers, making it difficult for workers to qualify.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.
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:
For now, SB 1906 and Committee Substitute (CS) for SB 1948 (CS/SB 1948)  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.
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).
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.
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.