As a national expert on unemployment insurance, Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project constantly hears from reporters who suggest their particular state must have the worst unemployment system in the nation.
“I have to tell them, ‘If you’re not calling me from Florida, I can’t tell you that you’re the worst state,’ “ said Evermore on the latest episode of Political Party with Adam Smith.
Florida’s disastrously faulty online unemployment system has received less attention in recent months than during the height of last year’s pandemic-related job losses, but it remains a top issue facing the Florida legislature this year. Lawmakers will consider proposals to revamp or replace the notoriously bad $78 million online CONNECT system put in place by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2013, as well as proposals to improve Florida’s meager benefits.
“The DEO has actually done an amazing job with what they were given,” Pinellas County resident Kelly Johnson, a leading advocate for unemployed Floridians said of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity. “The fact that the system is still actually running, and there are people that are getting claims shows you that they have done the best with what they have. Unfortunately it started bad.”
Johnson, a single mother and former restaurant manager who became an activist after learning firsthand how difficult Florida made accessing benefits, has emerged as a leading force and resource for unemployed Floridians needing information. She launched a Facebook group, Action Group for COVID 19 Unemployment.
“What we want to do going forward is make sure changes are made to the unemployment system and make sure that, God forbid something like this ever happens again, it won’t be such an absolute disaster. Because we still have tons of Floridians all across the state who still haven’t received one dime of their unemployment,” Johnson said.
Generally, a state should have 50 percent of its unemployed residents accessing benefits, while in Florida the rate is about 11 percent, Evermore said, because roughly half are choosing not to work for one reason or another. Being unable to access Florida’s system means people not only are unable to receive financial support from the state, but they can’t tap into federal Covid-related support programs.
Florida offers a maximum of $275 a week in benefits for up to 12 weeks – far less generous than the vast majority of states. Kelly and Evermore hope legislators seriously consider increasing benefits and not merely focus on the technology problems. Putting spending money in the pockets of struggling Floridians more than pays for itself by putting money into the economy, they said.
“The other side of unemployment insurance providing economic stimulus is that when it’s not there, it creates pain – and economic pain spreads like a virus,” Evermore said. “When they get evicted that also effects their landlord. When they get foreclosed on, that also effects the bank. If they can’t go to the hardware store …
“If your concern is people won’t get back to work and won’t get reemployed, the best thing you can do is have a strong unemployment system so they don’t go back to a lesser job and driving down wages in your community.”
Click the arrow above above to watch the full interview.