Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Now Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill that would increase benefits and double the maximum eligibility period.

First-time unemployment claims more than tripled in a week in Florida, reaching their highest level in five months. The week ending Jan. 9, for example, saw claims rise to 75,444. This came after averaging approximately 25,000 claims a week during December and into the first week of 2021, which marks the highest point seen since late August. To put the numbers in perspective: the number of Floridians receiving jobless aid for at least two consecutive weeks rose from 129,575 to 155,097.

Victims of the Pandemic

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ insistence on keeping businesses open despite the threat of coronavirus community spread, as well as his claims that shutting down the economy is not the way to battle the virus, didn’t help to stem the massive loss of jobs.  

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In fact, the leisure and hospitality industry alone lost nearly half a million jobs, and as businesses shuttered or cut their hours of attention, bars, restaurants, casinos, movie theatres, amusement parks, and other businesses were forced to furlough or let their workers go. ADP, the payroll processing company, gave a clear picture of the private sector when it reported the loss of 123,000 jobs for the month of December.

Democrats Fight for Relief

In response to this, Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill to overhaul the state’s unemployment system. District 47 Democrat Anna Eskamani’s bill increases benefits to $500 a week, instead of the $275 a week the state gives an unemployed person now.

“Unemployment is the biggest stimulus that a state and country can provide to its people as they are struggling to make ends meet,” Eskamani said during a virtual meeting to explain the legislation.

Her bill, she said, would:

  • Increase the maximum eligibility period from 13 to 26 weeks
  • Require the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to provide at least two other methods for residents to apply for assistance, in addition to the existing ways of submitting the unemployment application online or by mail
  • Open up eligibility to self-employed workers
  • Create an oversight committee over the DEO, which is in charge of Florida’s unemployment system.

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She also seeks to revamp the system, as difficulties registering for and qualifying for unemployment benefits have been a major source of stress for Floridians already on edge over the COVID-19 pandemic. Many reported they could not access the system nor reach anyone who could provide orientation.

“The system was designed to fail, and it did so epically,” Eskamani said.

The measure will be considered when this year’s Florida Legislation begins its session in March.