The National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) claiming that recent changes to Florida’s unemployment insurance (UI) claim filing procedures “create unprecedented barriers to unemployment insurance that violate . . . the Social Security Act.” The letter calls on USDOL to “take all appropriate action to ensure that the state of Florida provides its unemployed workers fair access to the benefits they are due.”
The letter objects to changes made by House Bill 7005 in August 2011, including mandatory online claim filing and completion of an online skills review test. The authors contend that although the skills test was approved only as a condition of continuingeligibility, in practice it is being administered as a condition of initial eligibility, which violates federal law. The writers point to figures showing that between August 1, 2011 and April 14, 2012, 43,680 claimants were denied benefits because they did not complete the initial skills review.
“The Florida UI program already has the lowest recipiency rate in the country,” the letter states. “In 2011, only 17 percent of the state’s unemployed received state UI benefits, compared to 27 percent nationally. In the fourth quarter of 2011—the first full quarter after the changes in HB 7005 were implemented—Florida’s recipiency rate dropped further to 15 percent.”
The changes to the claim filing procedures “make it just about as difficult as possible for unemployed workers to access unemployment insurance now,” said Valory Greenfield, staff attorney at Florida Legal Services. “The effect is that the state is blocking workers from accessing help they are qualified for and twisting the knife in the state’s ailing economy. Nowhere in the country is it this hard to get help when you lose a job.”