Florida House Cuts Jobless Aid With Unemployment Above 11%

Florida’s Republican-controlled House passed a bill curbing unemployment benefits as the state announced its jobless rate remained above 11 percent for the 15th consecutive month.

The bill, which passed by 81 to 38 in Tallahassee today, would reduce benefit coverage to 20 weeks from 26 and cap the maximum weekly payment at the current $275. The measure now moves to the Senate, also led by Republicans.

“This bill is punitive to unemployed people at a time when there are no jobs,” Darryl Rouson, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, said during floor debate. “The timing is wrong.”

Similar efforts are under way in Indiana, where last month the legislature reduced average weekly payments, and in New Jersey, where Republican Governor Chris Christie proposed reducing maximum weekly benefits to $550 from $600.

In Florida, most businesses would see reduced unemployment-compensation taxes if the House bill becomes law, bolstering Governor Rick Scott’s drive to make the state more company-friendly. The Republican elected in November has proposed phasing out the corporate-income tax, the state’s second-largest revenue source.

“Florida businesses have already received their tax bills, which become due April 1,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon. “Legislation passed today will help ease that tax increase.”

The state’s unemployment rate fell to 11.9 percent in January from 12 percent in December, the Labor Department said today. It’s been above 11 percent since November 2009 and exceeds the 8.9 percent national rate for February. It remains the third-highest in the U.S. after California and Nevada.

Loans for Benefits

Florida, facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit next fiscal year, owes $2.1 billion to the federal government for loans to pay jobless workers. In January, 1.1 million people lacked jobs in a labor force of 9.3 million, the state said today.

The length of time work-seekers could collect payments would be linked to the jobless rate under the House bill, dropping to 12 weeks at 5 percent. The measure also disqualifies some people from receiving benefits.

Only four states have less-generous maximum weekly benefits than Florida, according to a March 3 brief from Florida International University’s Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy. The portion of unemployed workers receiving benefits is the second-lowest among states at about 23 percent.

“Florida has one of the strictest systems in the country,” the report said.

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