The U.S. Senate made strides Tuesday to approve an extension of unemployment benefits that will give out-of-work Americans till November to enroll in the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, and fully fund Extended Benefits programs (.pdf) in states — like Florida — suffering from high unemployment. But a line in Florida law currently prohibits the Sunshine State from receiving and disbursing the additional E.B. funding promised in the legislation.

State Rep. Kevin Rader: “This is really a very dark day, I think, in the legislature” (Pic by Meredith Geddings)

At least one Florida lawmaker — state Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Boynton Beach — called on Gov. Charlie Crist, state House Speaker Larry Cretul, and state Senate President Jeff Atwater to fix the issue during this week’s special session, but that idea went nowhere. The state legislature called an end to the session after less than three hours. That means that thousands of Floridians who have exhausted their normal state and EUC benefits will be denied the federal government’s additional lifeline payments.

Senate Bill 1736, which passed during the Florida legislature’s 2010 regular session, stipulates that those who have exhausted normal state and EUC benefits must have established “entitlement to extended benefits” before June 2.

On its website, the Agency for Workforce Innovation — which administers Floridians’ unemployment benefits — states that the “legislation does not provide for EB entitlement remaining on claims after June 5, 2010.”

During negotiations this past spring, Rep. Rader tried to amend S.B. 1736 to allow the state to pay out additional benefits to the unemployed if “an Act of Congress continues to provide 100 percent federally funded extended unemployment compensation benefits between May 1, 2010, and the first day of the 2011 Regular Session.”

The amendment failed, ostensibly because its implementation would have depended on a federal vote. But Rader thinks there’s a simpler explanation. ”It was the majority party not wanting to do the right thing at the time and look ahead and really, in my eyes, do the prudent, fiscally responsible thing,” he says.

On Monday Rader sent a letter to Crist (CCing Cretul and Atwater) that asked the governor to expand his call for a special session to include a fix to the Florida statute that deals with extended benefits, and on Tuesday Rader filed legislation that would do just that. Rader’s law would have kept extended benefits flowing as long as “100 percent federal sharing is available.” In his letter, Rader warned that if Florida’s statute is not amended, the state “stands to miss out on approximately $290 million of federal funds.”

(You can read in full or download S.B. 1736, Rader’s failed amendment, Rader’s letter, the Florida statute, and Rader’s proposed fix below.)

The Florida legislature, though, refused to consider Rader’s proposed legislation (or anything else for that matter), concluding its business in just two and a half hours, without even voting on the stated purpose for the special session: to debate placing a constitutional offshore drilling ban on Florida ballots this November.

The Agency for Workforce Innovation confirms that the legislative fix would not have cost the state a dime. “EB costs are funded by the federal government providing eligibility for EB is not extended by state law beyond the period covered by full federal funding,” writes AWI spokesperson Robby Cunningham via email. Cunningham also confirms that no Florida business would see its unemployment insurance rate go up should the fix have been implemented.

“This is really a very dark day, I think, in the legislature,” Rader says, pointing out how effective unemployment benefits are as a stimulus: “When you take these dollars and you bring it right into the hands of unemployed individuals, it goes right into the economy.”

Rader cites AWI numbers that estimate that every dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates $1.64 in economic activity. “These dollars are a lifeblood,” he says, “not just for the unemployed and their families, but for businesses all over Florida.”

After the legislature adjourned early Tuesday, Rader vowed to urge Gov. Crist to issue an executive order to correct the problem: “We can’t have 35,000 Floridians losing their benefits.”

S.B. 1736 Failed Rader Amendment Rader’s Letter to Crist Florida Statute 443.1117
Rader’s Proposed Legislation

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