JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One year ago, many Florida lawmakers said changes needed to be made to Florida’s troubled unemployment system and its benefits, but that opportunity came and went as the legislative session just ended.
The legislature passed House Bill 1463 that will modernize Florida’s unemployment system, but nothing about enhancing unemployment benefits.
“Politicians made promises on the campaign trial that they would work to increase benefits, the eligibility process was too difficult,” said State Representative Anna Eskamani. “These promises were completely unfulfilled.”
Florida’s benefits currently include a maximum of $275 per week for 12 weeks. Those benefits are among the worst in the US.
Many unemployment advocates wanted to see benefit improvements and changes to eligibility criteria.
“Those who are actually unemployed overwhelmingly don’t qualify for benefits,” Eskamani said. “Before the pandemic, Florida’s eligibility rate was 8.9%”
The majority of the remaining unemployed Floridians were supported by federal pandemic programs.
Many bills were filed relating to unemployment benefits, but not many gained traction.
Republican Senator Jason Brodeur sponsored a bill that was promising to many. The bill raised the maximum amount of benefits by $100 per week and expanded eligibility criteria. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate.
Senators on both sides announced how proud they were of their work together.
“This is a truly bipartisan bill to do something decent,” said Senator Jason Pizzo just before the bill was passed in the Senate.
Pizzo urged his colleagues to influence anyone they know in the House of Representatives to vote to pass the bill.
“Honestly the takeaway is this,” Pizzo said to his colleagues during session. “If they don’t do it, it’s on them.”
House Speaker Chris Sprowls didn’t give the bill a hearing in his chamber.
State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith said he was unhappy with how his colleagues spent their time.
“We have talked about treating transgender athletes and students with respect on this floor more times than we’ve talked about reforming unemployment,” Guillermo Smith said.
“It was really frustrating to see a complete disregard for everyday people,” Eskamani said.