Florida Lawmakers Rethinking Unemployment Benefits

The economy may be on the rebound, but in Florida, more than a million people are still without a job. Many of them are relying on unemployment benefits to help make ends meet. If some lawmakers get their way, those weekly compensation checks could soon be a lot more difficult to come by.

James Bunch is out of work.

He'll be honest… About the only thing keeping a roof over his head is his weekly unemployment check, but now even that could be about to disappear.

A newly-filed bill would require anyone unemployed for more than 13 weeks to accept any job offer as long as it pays at least what the state pays out in benefits.

Right now that's $275 a week for Mr. Bunch.

“There's a lot of people that's skilled and good at what they do,” he said. “I don't mind being dirty, 'cause it's what I enjoy. But, I don't think I should have to work at Burger King to flip burgers, and I'm a builder.”

To provide for the staggering number of people on the unemployment roll, Florida’s had to borrow $2 billion, and it may well need more. Hence the drive for new restrictions.

The lawmaker behind the bill, Republican Senator Nancy Detert, is skeptical many of Florida's unemployed are actively looking for a job. Republican Senate President Mike Haridopolos says he's inclined to give the bill a fair hearing.

“There's one out of eight Floridians who aren't working right now, and they want to work, and we're going to do everything in our power to help them out, and if we find some folks are gaming the system, then we need to look at it,” he said.

Critics complain the system is designed to keep people afloat. After 99 weeks of benefits, you're cut off.

James says he has every right to use that time to find a well-paying and fulfilling job.

“Why [are] they trying to keep a person from trying to move up just a little bit? You know, it's not a handout - it's something that you work for.”

...But, something that could soon be a relic of a more lenient past.

The legislation would also shift the burden of proof in compensation claim disputes. Right now, unemployed workers have the benefit of the doubt, even if they've been fired for incompetence. Under the bill, the state would side with employers, denying benefits if a claimant's former boss says they weren't simply laid off.


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