Despite troublingly high unemployment rates, some states are passing legislation that cuts unemployment benefits. The most recent state to do so is Florida, which as a result of pending legislation is set to become the most miserly state when it comes to providing jobless benefits.
This is a dubious distinction for a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in our country. Yet the Florida legislation sets a dangerous precedent that must not be replicated by other state governments because they, too, would then not only harm their own unemployed but also cause damage to their already fragile state economies.
Under the new legislation awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, regular unemployment benefits will be slashed from 26 weeks to a maximum of 23 weeks. Additionally, for every 0.5 percent decrease in the state unemployment rate from 10.5 percent, claimants will see a one-week reduction in their benefits. The state’s unemployment rate has hovered above 11 percent since late 2009, among the highest in the country.
The regular unemployment benefits targeted in this legislation are funded by the state and cover the first 26 weeks the worker is unemployed. This legislation, however, will also reduce the extended benefits that a long-term unemployed worker can earn, which is funded by the federal government. Why? Because the laws governing federal extension benefits tie their duration to the amount of benefits states pay.
Unemployment insurance is critical to our families and the economy at large. It provides a much-needed safety net to a vulnerable population, and is an important tool in fighting recessions. Because unemployment insurance benefits are provided to those most likely to spend it right away, it is a very effective way to create much-needed demand during recessions.
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