Unemployment boost for Floridians up in the air

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida House has approved legislation that would revamp and improve the state’s unemployment system, but the two chambers are still far apart on increasing benefits for the unemployed.

The issue will be hotly debated in the days ahead.

The House’s unemployment reform bill focuses on improving the efficiency and capacity of the failed state’s unemployment system, which for months has been plagued by complaints and technical woes.

“So right, wrong or indifferent, the amount and the duration of benefits is not what this very good infrastructure bill is about,” State Rep. Chip LaMarca, the House sponsor, said. “This bill fixes a broken system.”

Democrats had hoped the legislation would go further.

“Our benefits are too low,” State Rep. Omari Hardy said. “You can’t get them for long enough.”

Florida’s unemployment benefits rank among the lowest in the nation, with only three state’s offering a smaller maximum weekly payment. Across the Capitol, the Senate is pushing a proposal to raise max weekly benefits from $275 to $375.

The Senate also wants to add two additional weeks of payments for unemployment benefit recipients.

“Well, the last time we addressed this issue was probably 20 years ago,” State Rep. Jason Brodeur said. “And since then, we’ve seen the cost of homes and the cost of living and the cost of really everything rise.”

Negotiations between the two chambers are ongoing, but LaMarca said his bill and increasing benefits are separate issues.

“I think there’s a fair amount of folks I can speak for, a fair amount of Republicans that have talked about it, and if it comes over here, I’m sure we’ll have that conversation,” he said. “This just was not the vehicle for it.”

The Senate sponsor is hopeful a deal can be worked out, even if it doesn’t go as far as he would like.

“That’s either the amount of money you get or the length of time that you get it and there’s some real discussion going on about what those calculations look like, how you do them and what is fair,” Brodeur said.

Even if the chambers come to an agreement on benefits, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he doesn’t support the idea and would rather focus on getting Floridians back to work.