Unemployment Compensation Bill Heads to House Floor
Around the State
A bill that would cut six weeks from the maximum amount of state unemployment compensation workers can receive is ready to be taken up by the House after passing through its last committee Friday.
Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, who sponsored the bill and is vice chair of the House Economic Affairs Committee, said he wants to shore up Florida’s unemployment compensation trust fund.
“That trust fund has to be replenished, so we have to make tough decisions,” Holder said.
The trust fund had been funded at $2 billion in recent years, but the deep recession and rising unemployment has led to a $2 billion deficit. Interest on a loan to help fund Florida’s unemployment compensation program could have been paid through a special assessment last year, but business groups asked legislators to put off the payments in hopes the economy would rebound and reduce their unemployment compensation tax burden.
Instead, the dismal economy has been prolonged, leaving Florida’s businesses -- that fully fund the unemployment compensation trust fund -- with a much larger interest payment of $61 million this year. Many businesses are already contending with the tripling of unemployment compensation taxes this year because of the problem, with minimum rates rising from about $25 per worker in 2010 to about $75 per worker in 2011.
Now, lawmakers are determined to replenish the fund while keeping business taxes to a minimum in order to spur job growth. That means cutting the amount of benefits issued by the trust fund.
Holder’s bill would require those claiming unemployment to undergo a skills assessment test before receiving benefits in order to help them transition to the next job, and lower the threshold for businesses to successfully dispute unemployment compensation claims. Holder says this creates a “level playing field” for businesses in a program that favors claimants, but Democrats dispute his balancing act.
“Someone who doesn’t have any money to hire a lawyer is going to go up against someone who has a team of lawyers,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach.
A similar Senate bill dealing with unemployment compensation reform includes provisions that are in the House bill, but does not cut the maximum amount of weeks claimants can receive benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, as the House version does. Federal money currently funds unemployment compensation benefits after state benefits run out, up to a total of 99 weeks.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who is sponsoring the Senate version, said this week she does not favor cutting the number of weeks.
The House bill would also tie to the unemployment rate the maximum amount of weeks a person can receive state unemployment benefits. For instance, benefits would max out at 20 weeks as long as Florida’s unemployment rate remains above 9 percent, but recipients would lose one week of benefits for every 0.5 percent drop in the unemployment rate below that.
The bill will now head to the House floor after the legislative session begins March 8.
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