More Floridians could lose unemployment benefits under new bill

Image via screengrab

By Giselle Balido

February 9, 2024

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature is pushing bills that would give state officials more power to deny unemployment benefits to laid-off workers.

Each day, Ana Maria Costoy, a 54-year-old beautician from South Miami, is growing more concerned. The salon where she has been working for more than 30 years is laying off employees. There are also rumors that the business could close its doors permanently. 

For many years, Costoy did not pay particular attention to the state’s unemployment compensation benefits. Yes, she was aware that they were low–occasionally, she heard a customer or a friend talk about it–but she says at the time it didn’t really concern her; she always thought she’d retire from the job she loved. 

“But people are being let go and I am really worried. At my age finding another job… It’s a youth-oriented industry,” she told Floricua. Her biggest fear is that if she loses her job and can’t find another immediately, her savings won’t last more than three or four months. 

Now Floridians like Costoy have even more cause for concern. The state House of Representatives is pushing a bill (House Bill 1289) from Republican State Rep. Shane Abbott that would give state officials more power to deny unemployment benefits to laid-off workers. A companion bill (Senate Bill 1260) from Republican State. Sen. Jay Trumbull is now moving through the Florida Senate. 

RELATED: Florida’s Jobless Benefits Haven’t Changed in 24 Years. DeSantis Still Won’t Raise Them.

Some of the proposed changes to unemployment assistance eligibility requirements in the legislation include:

  • Requiring that non-Florida residents seeking unemployment benefits report to workforce centers in their state of residence.
  • Requiring that weekly, a claimant completes at least one job application in person with an employer that has an expected job opening and the claimant must certify and attest biweekly that they will appear for all scheduled interviews and actively seek work.

The bill would also add more conditions that can disqualify an individual from receiving benefits, including: 

 

  • Failing to contact at least five prospective employers per week, unless otherwise exempt.
  • Failing to appear on three or more occasions for a scheduled job interview.
  • Failing to accept suitable work within 2 business days of being offered it, or
  • Failing to return to the individual’s self-employment when directed by the department, or when recalled by a former employer.

‘Why on earth would we do this?’

The [House] is pushing a bill that would make accessing unemployment benefits even more difficult, and even easier for the DeSantis administration to disqualify people,” Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani said in a written statement. Why on earth would we do this? Because conservative think tanks want to make it close to impossible for everyday people to access the benefits that are rightfully theirs.”

According to an analysis published in Seeking Rents, the proposed unemployment legislation “appears to be a priority for some of Florida’s largest business-lobbying groups and a billionaire-backed think tank. Kicking Floridians off unemployment insurance amounts to a tax break for businesses. That’s because unemployment benefits are financed by a state tax on employers; fewer payments for workers equals lower taxes for businesses.”

Florida charges businesses an average of just $66 per employee, according to the US Department of Labor. The national average is $291.  

RELATED: ‘Why Did It Become So Expensive?’: Florida’s High Costs Are Pushing Residents to the Brink

The Sunshine State doesn’t exactly have a glowing record when it comes to assisting unemployed Floridians and the state’s unemployment system is also among the stingiest in the country. While workers in most states are eligible for up to 26 weeks of benefits from the regular state-funded unemployment compensation program, 13 states provide fewer weeks. Florida is one of them. 

Florida also only offers a weekly maximum benefit amount of $275 and a minimum of $32. And once a person receives 12 weeks of unemployment benefits or reaches the maximum total benefit amount of $3,300, their unemployment payments end. 

“That won’t even pay my rent for two months,” says Thalia Pisango, a hospitality worker from Kendall who worries what will happen if she loses her job. “Everything is so expensive now, that I don’t know how anyone can survive on that [amount],” Pisango told Floricua. “I think politicians have forgotten what it is to be a regular working person. Could they live on that? That’s what I’d like to ask.”

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

Politics

Local News

Related Stories
Share This