State Sen. Randolph Bracy is calling for changes to Florida’s unemployment benefits systems following the flood of problems experienced by people applying for aid in the wake of layoffs and furloughs related to COVID-19.
"Florida has one of the lowest unemployment compensation packages in the country. We only allow for 12 weeks of unemployment benefits, and we only allow for $275 a week maximum," said the Orlando Democrat. "So I think its time for us to totally revamp our unemployment package system for our residents."
The legislator said he’s pushing for a minimum $400 weekly benefit payment for a 26-week period, similar to some other states.
Bracy has asked the Republican leaders of Florida's House and Senate to convene a special legislative session to address unemployment benefits once the threat of COVID-19 has subsided.
"I think this pandemic really has shed light on just how meager our unemployment package is," said Bracy. "If it wasn't for the federal government and the stimulus package that will add an extra $600 a week for unemployment compensation, we really would be devastated as a state if all we had was the current system in place."
Bracy did not explain how the state might pay for his proposed increase in unemployment assistance.
Currently unemployment benefits are funded through a tax on businesses, many of which have closed or are suffering financial losses due to efforts to contain the virus.
“We’re going to have to revamp our (state) budget to address our own economic issues,” Bracy said. “But for the long term we have to do a better job preparing for tragedies like this. If not we’ll be caught unprepared and we’ll just be vulnerable.”
In response to Bracy’s call for a special session to address Florida’s unemployment system, Republican state Sen. David Simmons said in an email it would be “premature to be making such a decision.”
Simmons said the Florida Senate voted on the state budget three weeks ago and suggested the solution is sending Floridians back to work but with precautions.
“After the 9/11 disaster, we all went back to work, but with different rules. Those rules included additional protections to keep passengers and citizens of America safer,” Simmons wrote. “Now, we will need to follow a similar concept due to the coronavirus pandemic, which won’t end within the next few weeks.”
Simmons suggested when people do go back to work they observe all the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of coronaviurs including social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing.
“Fortunately, Florida has kept its agricultural, construction, and trucking and distribution systems working,” Simmons said. “It’s time to open our restaurants, hotels, resorts, and theme parks back up, but with new and stricter different rules like the ones I just described.”