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  • Chronological review of FL Unemployment Dysfunctional system
    Updated On: May 06, 2020

    APRIL 30, 2020                                                                                                                   byJ. B. Clark

    UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

    It is no secret that Florida’s unemployment compensation system is malfunctioning.  Approximately two million unemployed workers are struggling with filing claims for benefits while enduring the threat of the COVI-19 pandemic. This review of the past decade will bring focus to how Florida’s workers ended up in this mess.     

         

    CHRONOLOGY OF THE CREATION OF A DYSFUNCTIONAL SYSTEM

    2010 – For more than a decade, claimants could receive benefits of up to $275 per week for a maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment. Applicants who are union members are exempted from weekly reporting to local career centers if they get their jobs through a “hiring hall”. Union lobbyists worked to “clear up” this weekly process that accomplished little if anything.

    2011 – In the 2011 Session, HB-7005 by Reps. Bill Holder, Janet Adkins and Matt Gaetz (all Republicans) was filed to amend the Unemployment Compensation Law and passed the house 80 to 38 and passed the Senate 27 to 11.  The Senate companion bill was SB-728 by Sens. Nancy Detert and Don Gaetz (both Republicans).

    The bill required:

        1)  Claimants to participate in an initial skills review using an online education or training program as part of reporting for benefits.

        2)  Claimants to make systematic and sustained effort to find work, and to contact at least five prospective employers each week.

        3)  Claimants to file claims by internet, rather than in-person or by phone or mail.

        4)  Changing the disqualification standard for misconduct from “willful” to “conscious”.

        5) Changing the definition of misconduct to specify acts of misconduct such as absenteeism.

        

    Adding disqualifiers for:

        1)  Any weeks in which an individual receives severance pay from an employer.

        2)  Being fired for all crimes committed in connection with work.

        3)  Individuals who are incarcerated or imprisoned.

        4) Violations of employer work rules could lead to the employer losing their license.

    The bill created a sliding scale for benefits beginning in 2012 by correlating the maximum weeks of benefits available with the rate of unemployment. The maximum amount of benefits available was changed to 23 weeks when the unemployment rate is 10.5 percent or greater, and scaled down to 12 weeks of benefits when the unemployment rate is 5 percent or less. Eliminated the payment of benefits by mail, and provided benefits to be paid electronically only. Provided tax relief for employers beginning in 2012 by reducing their tax calculation. Repealed the language which required that unemployment laws be liberally construed in favor of a claimant.  Union members were exempted from work search requirements if they get jobs through a “hiring hall” and apply to their local union daily.

    2012 – The Florida unemployment compensation law was retitled the Re-Employment Assistance Program to be administered by the Department of Economic Opportunity. Union members are exempted from the skills review test and training program if their jobs are obtained through a “hiring hall”.

    2013 “Online” becomes the only “electronic means” of registering and applying for unemployment compensation benefits. Florida paid $77 million for installation of the CONNECT online website based, U/C system.

    Loss of benefits could now occur under the following conditions:

          1) Damage or theft of the employer’s property;

          2) Assault and battery of other employees or customers;

          3) Abuse or neglect of a patient, disabled person, elderly person or child in the

              employer’s care. 

    Claimants are prohibited from using the same employer in three consecutive weeks during their work search. 

    2014 – Alternate means, such as telephone, was adopted for applying for U/C benefits. A public notice of this alternate means of U/C benefits application was required but was never effectively implemented.

    2015-2019 – The Re-Employment Assistance Program Law was basically unchanged while during this time it became increasingly general knowledge of the unemployed workers that the system was unmanageable. There was no great outrage pitched at this broken system during the Obama Presidential Revival of the American Economy but the COVID-19 pandemic mass unemployment caused a complete systemic breakdown.        

    2020 – Except for a temporary increase to $288 per week during the year 2000, the weekly maximum benefit amount for unemployment compensation remains at $275 since January 1, 1998, through to this day. This amount is the 4th lowest in the USA and the current 12 weeks of compensation is the shortest. Amazing, but true. Soon after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local governments reacted by adopting ordinances or issuing executive orders limiting access to business and creating social distancing.  Sickness, hospitalization, deaths and unemployment skyrocketed. The dysfunctional Florida unemployment compensation system was completely overwhelmed with applications. Finally, the unemployed are in need and became outraged. By early March, the systemic problems were mounting and Governor DeSantis was declaring that he may waive some of the requirements impeding the availability of unemployment compensation benefits. Clearly, the only voice that was pushing the Governor into action was from organized labor. The Florida AFL-CIO and its unions have

    been, and will continue to be, active in getting relief for its unemployed members.

    On March 20, Executive Director Ken Lawson of the Department of Economic Opportunities issued Emergency Order 20-11. The order suspends the on-line only registration requirements retroactively beginning March 15 through May 2. The order suspends the work search requirement retroactively beginning March 15 through May 2. The order also provides for potentially extending the time frames.

    On April 2, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-93, which included:

         1) Directing the deployment of various agency personnel (estimated at 2000 persons)

    to assist the employees at the Department of Economic Opportunities in processing unemployment claims.

          2) Quick training of transferred personnel.

          3) Implementing alternative forms of applying including telephone and paper claim forms. Directing that contracts be issued to vendors to assist with collection and delivery of paper forms.

          4) The immediate procurement of capacity, software and technology to ensure accommodating the increased volume of applications. It was subsequently reported by

    the news media that a backup system for the connect system was NEVER hooked up, and that work would begin to secure its operation. It has been reported that contracts of over $100 million have been issued for technology systems.

    On April 16, by Executive Order 20-104, Governor DeSantis suspended the “actively seeking work” bi-weekly reporting requirement for applicants of unemployment benefits.

    On April 24, The Department of Management Services Secretary, Jonathan Satter, who took over management of the unemployment compensation system, said “ the State will be affecting a retroactive period for claims to March 9 so it would be the day of their job loss or March 9 that jobless Floridians begin receiving back benefits”.

    On April 24, Florida Senate President, Bill Galvano, announced that at the present he does not see a need for a Special Session of the Legislature. In light of the current economy, with COVID-19 and job loss, he is prepared to call the Senate in if necessary.

    On April 24, The state reported that payments had been made to 153,788 people or 21.9% of the applicants. The State advised the U. S. Department of Labor that it received 505,137 new applicants from April 20-24 and as of April 24 had received 1.8 million claims since March 14.

    On April 27, Secretary Satter reported that Disney has been working with the State to download a massive list of furloughed employees of up to 100,000.

    On April 28, The state reported that it had received 2,028,635 million claims since March 15, with 835,290 considered “unique” as some people have filed duplicate claims. Of the unique claims, the state had made weekly payments of up to $275 to 392,051 people, or 47.6 percent.

    “VICTORY OVER ADVERSITY”


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