David Dunn-Rankin

Most of us are embarrassed by the fiasco that is Florida’s unemployment system. During this crisis, people without an income to feed their family waited weeks and months to get their first unemployment check.

Some unfortunate people who initially received unemployment checks after weeks of trying then had checks inexplicably stopped. Despite months of phone calls and emails, the unemployment assistance still has not resumed.

When the shocking news of how Florida treats the temporarily unemployed came out, a friend said to me, “You know why that system is so messed up for the poor? The people in power in Tallahassee despise poor people.”

I thought that was harsh and said so. But as the damning details of Florida’s unemployment system continue to unfold, I may be slowly coming around.

He thinks our elected officials in Tallahassee made it miserably hard for the unemployed on purpose. Maybe he is right.

Florida’s unemployment system is antiquated and difficult to navigate. It feels like Tallahassee likes seeing people have a hard time collecting unemployment – just get a job, you bum. Is it hard to modernize the software that runs Florida’s unemployment system? No. Lots of other states have done it.

That condescending attitude of our political class in Tallahassee towards the unemployed is ignorant. Only 30 percent to 40 percent of all the unemployed in Florida are eligible for unemployment assistance.

People who quit their job are not eligible for unemployment in Florida. Employers are notified if ex-employees file for unemployment. If an employee voluntarily leaves the business, the business usually protests the unemployment claim, and the ex-employee usually loses. If the employee is fired for cause, they are not eligible for unemployment.

Generally, only if an employer is downsizing, or the employee is not a good fit and is let go, is the ex-employee eligible. They had a job, they want a job, but are temporarily unemployed.

These unfortunate people, who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, are not bums. The political class in Tallahassee should not be punishing them. Our public servants should be helping them bridge to a new job.

The people in power in Tallahassee also put on an act as if it is their money or the taxpayers’ money that supports unemployment. Neither is true. Your taxpayer dollars do not support the unemployed in Florida.

Every business in Florida pays into an insurance fund. In D-R Media’s case, we pay 2.7 percent of the first $7,000 on every employee, or about $189 per employee per year. Other businesses may pay more or less, based on their claims history.

We only contribute the modest $189 per employee per year to the fund, because the power structure in Tallahassee believes someone who is laid off work can support themselves on $275 a week while they look for a replacement job. If you were a theater lighting person making $60,000 with a mortgage, and two car payments, how long will it take you to find a similar job? How will you survive on $275 a week?

A much more thoughtful and nuanced system would be to pay people a sliding scale of 60 percent of their old income for 13 weeks, with a floor of $400 and a ceiling of $1,000 per week. That would ensure our people who truly want to work, and are laid off through no fault of their own, have a bridge to find a job without having their personal finances destroyed.

Perhaps D-R Media’s unemployment premiums would increase by $200 a year per employee under that system. That increase isn’t even a rounding error for most businesses. It’s just $1,000 a year for a five-person company.

Florida’s unemployment insurance is not for deadbeats. It is for workers who want to work but are temporarily without a job – generally through no fault of their own.

Whatever happened to giving a hand up without giving a handout? Why is the political class in Tallahassee making their life as miserable as possible?

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