Only 12 Percent of Unemployed Floridians Are Receiving Benefits, Lowest Rate in the Nation

Gov. Rick Scott came into office with the goal of making unemployment benefits harder to get than ever before, and he has achieved that goal in stunning fashion. Just 12 percent of unemployed Floridians are receiving benefits from the state's unemployment insurance program, tied with South Carolina as the lowest rate of any state in the nation. That means fewer than one in eight Floridians without a job are receiving assistance. That average national rate is 27 percent. 

The numbers come from a report from the National Employment Law Program, which has sued Florida over controversial changes to its unemployment insurance program. 

While Florida's economy has followed a national trend of improvement, and unemployment — currently at 5.3 percent — is at a seven-year low, the state has now made receiving unemployment benefits harder than ever. The NELP calls the process for receiving benefits “one of the most onerous in the country.”

The downfall came when the state introduced a new automated filing system called CONNECT in the fall of 2013. To receive benefits, residents had to file an initial claim; register with the public employment service; post an online resume; answer a 45-question quiz involving math, reading, and research skills; and then provide documentation of job search activities on a weekly basis. 

However, the site used to do all of this launched with glitches and problems similar to the Obamacare website, and the state made little effort to help those who were having problems or who didn't have regular access to the internet. 

As a result, those receiving benefits plummeted after the introduction of the new system, from 16 percent to the current 12 percent. 

In addition, just 39 percent of Floridians who try to file for unemployment insurance even receive a first check. That's compared to the national average of 68 percent. 

Previously reports indicate that those who actually do receive unemployment insurance in Florida only receive $228.51 a week, the 52nd lowest amongst the states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. 

This is despite numerous claims by researchers that unemployment insurance is actually beneficial to the economy. 

"More than 70 years after its inception, unemployment insurance continues to provide a valuable cushion against income losses from temporary unemployment," wrote the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in a paper in 2014. "It also serves as an effective automatic stabilizer for the overall economy by shoring up workers’ purchasing power during economic downturns."

In a report, the Congressional Budget Office also found that every dollar spent in unemployment insurance generates between $0.70 and $1.90.
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Kyle Munzenrieder