Florida Workers Seeking Unemployment Benefits Hindered by New GOP Law

In recent months, conservatives in many states have gutted unemployment benefits, arguing that doing so would motivate people to go back to work. In Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the GOP legislature cut unemployment benefits to pay for corporate tax cuts, workers are claiming that a cumbersome new unemployment benefits system is preventing them from accessing their vital aid.

Two workers’ rights organizations, the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services, have filed a complaint with the Department of Labor regarding the new system. Since August 1st, workers seeking unemployment benefits have been required to apply online and complete a 45-question math and reading test to determine their job skills, according to the complaint:

Most of these changes restricted access to benefits in some substantial way, by either altering existing claim procedures or adding new eligibility requirements. The cumulative impact of these changes is that the process of filing an initial claim for benefits is much more difficult for the average Floridian, and many potentially eligible claimants are being discouraged from filing.

The new system, named the “Reemployment Assistance Program,” was passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Scott in the spring of 2011. The burdensome test offers no assistance when making claims and fails to notify workers if their application is incomplete. With some library computers programmed to turn off after an hour’s use, many frustrated Floridians are forced to start their applications over or compelled to quit altogether.

As Scott boasts about Florida’s employment gains, 43,680 Floridians were denied benefits because they did not finish his test. Only 15 percent of unemployed Floridians drew benefits in the last quarter of 2011, compared to 27 percent nationwide.

— Steven Perlberg