As the United States Senate stands poised to vote to approve an extension of federal unemployment benefits next Tuesday, labor leaders in Florida are scrambling to persuade the Florida legislature to fix a section of state law that will prevent Floridians from receiving a portion of those funds once they pass. But the office of state Speaker of the House Larry Cretul says lawmakers are “unlikely” to address the problem during next week’s special session, leaving thousands of Floridians without access to the federal lifeline.
The Florida AFL-CIO yesterday issued a press release (.pdf) calling for lawmakers to correct “a little-discussed problem with Florida’s Statutes that will prohibit Florida’s workers from participating in the Federal Unemployment Extended Benefits program, even if the United States Senate re-authorizes the program.”
The problem is a cutoff date, June 5, which was included in Florida law despite some legislators’ attempts to leave it open-ended in case the federal government decided to extend its unemployment program. “Delray Beach Democrat Kevin Rader tried but failed to amend the bill … to allow an automatic extension of the benefits if Congress passes another extension which it has done at least four times recently,” reported Post on Politics in April.
“By stating a specific date for participation in statute the Florida legislature is jeopardizing our ability to participate in future extensions of unemployment benefits should they be granted by Congress when the legislature is not in session,” state Rep. Rader told Post at the time.
Florida lawmakers’ only short-term opportunity to correct the statute will come next week when the legislature convenes to debate placing an amendment banning offshore drilling on Florida’s November ballot. But the communications director for Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul, Jill Chamberlain, says “it’s unlikely any idea, no matter how much merit it has, will be added to the agenda.”
“Florida is already so overextended in the area of unemployment claims, that we’re running a debt,” Chamberlain adds. “We’re having to borrow money to pay interest to the federal government.”
Rich Templin, communications director for the state AFL-CIO, says that the benefits Floridians will receive if the statute is fixed won’t cost the state, or state businesses, a dime. “It’s 100 percent federally funded,” he says. “No money comes out of the state trust fund. No money comes from businesses.” If Florida lawmakers don’t act next week, the money that would go to our state’s unemployed will instead be diverted to other parts of the country.
The AFL-CIO press release states that the extended benefits program could “provide over $290 million for unemployed workers,” citing Agency for Workforce Innovation statistics that estimate that for each dollar paid to the unemployed, $1.64 in economic activity is generated. Without the fix, “over $475 million in potential economic stimulus will be lost.”
Unemployment benefits are a potent source of economic stimulus because those receiving the benefits generally spend the payments immediately. “We’re not talking about people going out and buying new cell phones,” Templin says. “We’re talking about food. Rent.” Templin calls unemployment benefits “business insurance,” because they keep unemployed citizens spend.
“There is absolutely no policy reason why they are blocking this,” Templin says, claiming legislative leadership simply views unemployment insurance as “welfare.” He also says there is a “concerted effort” by the Republican party to throttle any economic recovery till after the November elections.
Meanwhile, 35,000 unemployed Floridians are losing their unemployment benefits each week.