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State News

Brodeur Pitches Raising Unemployment Benefit To $375 A Week

Man filling out an unemployment claim
Adobe Stock
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Andrii
Man filling out an unemployment claim.

Florida’s unemployment system nearly failed at the start of the pandemic, and critics point to low benefits as part of the problem. Now lawmakers in the Senate are looking to increase the amount of cash benefits. Still some Democrats say the proposed increase doesn’t do enough for workers.

The measure would increase Florida’s unemployment benefits to $375 a week, a hundred dollars more than unemployed workers currently receive. Florida is among the lowest in the nation in unemployment benefits. Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur says he sought the $100 boost after seeing what other states are doing.

“We looked at the average of all weekly unemployment rate payments throughout the country and it was about $375 some had it at $380 some had it at $370 but nobody had it at $400 and nobody had it at $350," Brodeur said at a recent meeting of the Senate's Commerce and Tourism committee.

Senate President Wilton Simpson raised the issue at the start of the lawmaking session.

Though lawmakers on the Commerce and Tourism Committee recently backed the increase, Democrats offered amendments to go above what the bill provides. Among the ideas floated but struck down: making more people eligible for unemployment, increasing the length of time workers can receive benefits, and connecting the weekly cash payments to the state’s rising minimum wage. Brodeur opposed the amendments saying a substantial increase in the amount of unemployment benefits will strain business owners.

"Everybody’s made all of their current assumptions about what there going to have to pay based on our current formula. If we now expand the base and more people are drawing on it and it changes the formula that tax increase hits everybody, and so I know we’re trying to be fair to these individuals that this would impact but we’re also trying to balance that with fairness across every business from whom we would collect these taxes,” he said.

Florida’s unemployment benefits are funded through a trust fund which is backed by taxes paid by employers. Democratic Sen. Victor Torres offered an amendment to raise the weekly benefit to $500. Torres says without any added benefits he’s down on the bill.

“Your bill is not bad it’s not great. It doesn’t go far enough," he told Brodeur. "You didn’t take our amendments, and that’s your privilege but also for me to support your bill it has to go further so at this time I am not going to support this bill until it moves further.”

The bill has one more committee stop until reaching the Senate floor. The legislature is also considering paying for a rebuild of the state’s connect website, which buckled last Spring at the start of the pandemic when businesses were ordered closed. Lawmakers are also planning to use revenue generated by requiring out-of-state businesses to pay online sales taxes to shore up the unemployment trust fund.

A house companion bill that would also increase benefits sponsored by democratic Reps. Anna Eskamani and Ben Diamond has not been heard in it’s first committee yet.