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Florida House seeks to reduce unemployment benefits to workforce

Though not specifically a matter of employment law, an issue of great interest to the Florida workforce is currently making its' way through the state legislature. Last month, the Florida House of Representatives took steps to diminish the rights of workers, make our state one of the least advantageous places in the nation to lose your job.

The bill that passed through the House in March aims to cut the standard number of weeks a person is eligible to receive unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20. This reduction of six weeks represents a notable deviation from the standard 26 weeks employed by a majority of states in the nation. This proposed reduction is an interesting move for Florida, as our state is already known to offer very little by way of employee benefits in comparison with other states.

The House is definitely aiming to make waves with this bill. It proposes to tie the duration of unemployment benefit eligibility directly to the unemployment rate. For example, if the unemployment rate dips below five percent, the rights of former employees to collect unemployment benefits would be reduced to a mere 12 weeks under the House-approved version of the bill. Fortunately, the Senate is taking a much more level-headed approach in this matter, pushing to maintain unemployment benefit availability at 26 weeks and refraining from tying duration of benefits to the unemployment rate.

The larger issue at play here is that Florida is facing a $2.1 billion deficit of our unemployment fund. In the last year, Florida businesses have experienced a roughly 300 percent spike in taxes they must pay per employee, and this increase shows no signs of stopping. Many believe the solution lies in Florida employers creating more jobs, and that decreasing the duration workers are able to draw from unemployment will allow the state to reduce employee taxes on business over time. Others worry that decreasing the rights of workers to draw from unemployment is cruel and that the state is setting an unrealistic expectation as to when a person might again find gainful employment.

All those interested in issues of Florida employment law will undoubtedly be watching this bill closely as it proceeds through the legislature.

Source: The New York Times "The Jobless See a Lifeline at Risk" by Lizette Alvarez 3/31/11

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