Over the past four years, Florida has imposed a series of new claims-filing requirements and procedures that have made it more difficult for involuntarily unemployed workers to apply and qualify for unemployment insurance (UI). As a consequence of procedural hurdles and drastic cuts in available benefit weeks, fewer than one in eight unemployed Floridians is currently receiving unemployment insurance, the lowest rate in the nation. This downward trend has accelerated since the introduction of a new automated filing system known as CONNECT in the fall of 2013.

Electronic filing requirements, some of which were included in state legislation enacted in 2011, have made the process of establishing UI eligibility in Florida among the most onerous in the country. Immediately after implementation of House Bill 7005 in August 2011, thousands of workers were unable to successfully complete online transactions necessary to apply and qualify for UI benefits, largely because of poor automated systems and lack of personal customer assistance. Each of these transactions could only be completed online: initial claim filing, registration with the public employment service, posting of an online resume, a 45-question math, reading, and research skills test,1 and extensive documentation of weekly work-search activity.

In the fall of 2013, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) launched, to disastrous effect, a new automated filing system known as CONNECT. Tens of thousands more claimants experienced benefit delays of two to four months, prompting the Secretary of Labor to intervene and order corrective action necessary to get benefits paid. Major problems with the design and testing of the new CONNECT system have been the subject of legislative hearings and a state audit. CONNECT is more complex and requires more individualized adjudications than the prior filing system. As a result, Florida has been among the slowest states in the nation in determining the eligibility of unemployed workers who apply for UI benefits.

Since 2011, the Florida unemployment insurance program has made it more difficult for workers to receive benefits following involuntary job loss. Key indicators of this trend include the following findings:

  • Only 12 percent of Florida’s unemployed received unemployment insurance in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2015. That rate is tied with South Carolina for the lowest of all 53 jurisdictions administering unemployment insurance programs. The national average is 27 percent. Recipiency in Florida dropped from 16 to 12 percent in the eighteen months following the launch of CONNECT.
  • Between 2010 and 2014 (a period in which Florida’s unemployment rate dropped from over 11 percent to 5.7 percent), the number of claimants who were disqualified for reasons not related to the separation from their job increased by more than 180 percent. Most of that increase was because claimants did not satisfy a procedural reporting requirement or because the state found that they were not “able and available” for work or did not meet requirements for online documentation of employment registration or work search.
  • The number of workers disqualified because DEO found they were not “able and available for work” or not “actively seeking work” more than doubled in the year following the launch of CONNECT, even though weekly claims declined by 20 percent in that same year.
  • The number of workers who have been disqualified for not satisfying procedural reporting requirements has quadrupled since online filing was mandated in August 2011, despite the fact that fewer than half as many individuals are claiming benefits.
  • Only 39 percent of those Florida workers who apply for benefits ever receive a first payment, the second lowest rate in the country. Nationally, 68 percent of those workers applying for unemployment insurance receive UI benefits. Florida’s first-payment rate has dropped roughly 20 percentage points since 2010.
  • Between calendar years 2010 and 2014, new claims for benefits in Florida declined by 44 percent compared to 32 percent nationally. During that same period in which there were comparable declines in state and national unemployment rates, first UI payments declined by 62 percent in Florida compared to 35 percent nationally.

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