Democratic state lawmakers announced Thursday they would propose legislation to reform Florida’s unemployment system in the next legislative session.
The proposed bill is calling for a number of changes such as increasing the weekly benefits amount, extending the amount of weeks people can collect, and requiring the state’s unemployment agency to determine a claimant’s eligibility within three weeks.
“The legislature needs to undo this horrendously stingy system,” State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez said.
Responding to every consumer complaint
Rodriguez announced the bill Thursday during a virtual news conference along with other Democratic lawmakers.
Since March, NBC 6 Responds has heard from frustrated people running into issues trying to get their unemployment benefits.
Many of the complaints were related to the state’s online unemployment portal CONNECT.
The system went down again this week and prevented users from accessing their accounts.
“There have to be alternative ways for people to apply. It cannot just be online,” Rodriguez said.
The bill would also require the Department of Economic Opportunity to provide alternative ways for people to submit their applications besides using the CONNECT portal.
“A lot of people are blaming the computer system but computers do what you tell them to do,” said Michele Evermore, from the National Employment Law Project.
She says there are ways to improve Florida’s unemployment system now.
“Go through the system and do an audit and figure out where people are getting stuck, figure out what are the flags that are holding people up and turn off those flags,” Evermore said.
She says legislative reform should be centered around an user-friendly design to fix flaws lingering since the system was modernized back in 2013.
“It was done on the back of a very punishing legal framework. So first, workers need to be at the table when you write the laws, but secondly they need to be there when you are setting up the system,” Evermore said.
The proposed legislation could be considered during the 2021 legislative session if a special session is not called sooner.