As the state reports that the unemployment rate in Florida dropped again during the month of November, the fate of unemployment benefits for Floridians remains unclear, as Congress continues to disagree over how to extend the payments.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that “Congress has got a nasty surprise for everyone who expected it to quietly pass a payroll tax-cut extension and slink off for the holidays: one last exercise in partisan brinkmanship. A House Republican rebellion is setting the stage for a last-minute showdown over the payroll tax cuts today.”

The Journal adds: “Here’s what’s at stake: If there’s no deal by Jan. 1, about 150 million workers will see a two percentage-point payroll tax increase, some unemployment benefits will get cut off and doctors who treat Medicare patients will see their reimbursement rates drop. It’s significant enough to dent the struggling economy.”

The communications office of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity writes via email that “379,472 Floridians are potentially affected by not extending the emergency benefits.”

Asked how the state plans to deal with unemployed Floridians who do not receive unemployment benefits, the email adds: “There are an array of job placement and training programs [.pdf] already in place at the regional level to assist unemployed Floridians, including UC customers, at no cost to the customer.” And: “Whether or not someone receives unemployment compensation (or runs out of benefits) does not impact their ability to receive job placement assistance.”

The Department of Economic Opportunity reported (.pdf) Friday that the state’s “unemployment rate continued to decline in November to 10.0 percent” (i.e. 926,000 unemployed). The state’s November jobs report adds that “120,000 net jobs” have been “gained since January” 2011.

The Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University said last week that “unemployment has been consistently decreasing since the end of 2010, but labor force participation rates have been decreasing as well. At the end of 2010, the labor force participation rate was 62.7%, but by October 2011, the percentage of working-age population in Florida looking for jobs decreased to 61.8%.”

The Research Institute report (.pdf) adds that whatever Congress decides to do, a law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June “will further reduce the number of weeks of federally funded benefits that unemployed workers will be eligible for”:

Last spring the Florida legislature reduced the maximum number of weeks of unemployment from 26 weeks to 23 weeks, depending on how high the unemployment rate is. Starting January 1, the approximately 15,000 people per week who file initial claims for unemployment benefits will be eligible for only 23 weeks of benefits. The state estimates this change will save the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund $103 million annually, representing a savings to employers but a loss to families and businesses which depend on UC benefits.

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