Unemployment insurance is one of the staples of a functioning society. Having a functioning unemployment system acts as a cushion for any citizen in between or out of work. It ensures that unemployment recipients receive a basic standard of living while one searches for new work. It is not meant to be permanent or replace working, it is meant to ease the financial burden of hard-working families while they search for better opportunities for themselves and their families.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case here in Florida. A decade of Republican control of our state has left our social safety net completely gutted, ineffective, and harmful. Only now during a global pandemic are the deficiencies in the system being exposed. Floridians in the face of losing their jobs, a global pandemic, a recession, and a national economic shutdown were failed by their state leadership. Plain and simple. For over 1.7 million Floridians since mid-March unemployment has become their sole source of income. Floridians looked to their state government to cushion the economic blow of our current crisis and they were met with absolute ineptitude. Florida’s unemployment website couldn’t process the number of applicants and was notoriously buggy. Floridians would try for hours to make their account and file for economic assistance to no avail. Constant website disconnection and crashes made applying for unemployment assistance incredibly difficult and frustrating. Floridians were also unable to have their phone calls answered by the FDEO leaving many in unnecessary and unconscionable financial limbo; as the status of their applications was unknown. Millions of Floridians were left wondering when their money was coming, if their money was coming, if they filled out the forms correctly, among many other anxious thoughts.
How did the State of Florida respond to this crisis? It took them weeks to make payments to eligible Floridians and even then, the legality or stability of this source of income during the era of Covid-19 was still up in the air. Gov. Desantis spent an additional $119 million overhauling the unemployment system leaving many problems still intact and has resorted to victim-blaming Floridians if they have not received financial assistance. This behavior is unacceptable and hard-working Floridians should not stand to be treated so poorly.
However, the issues surrounding Florida’s unemployment system are not new. The system has been plagued with the same service problems and confusion since its initial overhaul by then Gov. Rick Scott in 2013. Gov. Scott instituted many changes that crippled an already lacking unemployment system. Scott spent $77 million of taxpayer money on an unemployment system designed to fail under the smallest amount of stress. Scott defended his cuts to unemployment by saying, “My big focus is to make sure people have jobs, so they don’t even have to look” for unemployment benefits. A theory that is impossible during a global pandemic. Per republican ideology, Scott deliberately made it harder to receive unemployment and reduced benefits to bailout Floridian businesses and cut their taxes. Now leaving millions of Floridians unnecessarily stressed, anxious, and confused. Scott cut the duration of benefits down from 26 weeks to 12 weeks. Benefits were also capped at $275 per week, one of the lowest caps in the entire country.
We must now come together to solve this problem and help the working families of Florida. Here is my plan to address Florida’s unemployment system:
· Require the FDEO to report the number of Floridians they have failed to reach.
· Ensure all benefits are retroactively paid dating back to the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
· Increase SNAP benefits for all Floridians to establish a base level of comfort and stability for Florida families.
· Include gig/self-employed workers in the unemployment system
· Double weekly benefit cap to $550
· Double benefit longevity back to 26 weeks