TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would increase unemployment benefits from $275 to $375 a week and boost the eligibility period from 12 weeks to 14 weeks.
What You Need To Know
- Florida Senate OKs bill to increase jobless benefits to $375/week for 14 weeks
- Legislation still lacks support from governor and House of Representatives
- Senator urges chamber to exert influence, political will "on our House colleagues"
With eight days left in the legislative session, the bill still faces a mighty climb to become law. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has advanced no companion bill, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last week expressed his opposition to increased unemployment benefits.
Those factors prompted some senators to appeal Thursday to the House for action.
“Today I’m very proud to be a member of the Senate,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, said during debate on the Senate floor, “and all I’m asking, as there is no companion bill right now, whatever political will, whatever influence, whatever self-respect you have — that you think you can invoke and impress upon our House colleagues — please do so.”
Florida ranks as one of the worst states — many emphasize the absolute worst state — for jobless benefits. That fact became illuminated last year upon the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the layoffs it produced, particularly in tourism-heavy Tampa Bay and Central Florida.
Passage of the bill from Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Seminole County, follows attempts by House Democrats this week to include increased unemployment benefits in a bill that focused on the state’s notoriously plagued online unemployment-benefits system.
But voting along party lines, the House blocked three amendments, two from Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, and one from Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.
One of Eskamani’s amendments sought an increase to $375 a week in the maximum weekly benefit, as the Senate bill includes. That fell far short of the $500 a week she sought in a bill that the House never considered.
Smith said afterward that given the House’s reluctance at this point in the legislative session, it would take “extraordinary measures” to enact a bill that would increase unemployment compensation.
Yet “there’s always hope, and we have to April 30 to get it done,” Eskamani told Spectrum News on Thursday after the Senate vote. Despite her failed amendments this week, she said, “I’m hopeful since the Senate passed it and there’s bipartisan consensus in the Senate that maybe that will encourage the House to do it.”
She added: “But I do think it comes down to how badly the Senate wants it because this is going to become a negotiation process, and we need more House reps to also stand with Florida workers and support this increase.”
Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said on the Senate floor Thursday: “We have put a lot of faith in this bill, and we’re hoping that, yes, the House should do it. Maybe we could attach (the legislation) to something they love. Maybe we could somehow write the governor and put some love over there for him, too, and be able to bring this home.”
After the Senate failed to consider her own bill, which called for $400 a week and 26 weeks of benefits, Stewart joined Brodeur’s SB 1906 as a co-sponsor and said she worked to increase the duration of benefits from 12 weeks to 14 weeks. The 14 weeks applies to when the state's most recent monthly unemployment rate — now 4.7% — stands at or below 5%, with an additional week for each 0.5% increment in the state’s most recent monthly unemployment rate above 5%.
On Thursday, Stewart pointed to a legislature that voted to require out-of-state online retailers to collect Florida sales taxes, which will be used to replenish the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund. That will help Florida business owners avoid an increase in unemployment taxes.
“If we’re going to give the money out to companies and put the money back into the Trust Fund, then what we need to do is also give some money to the constituents for what they need for their own pockets,” she said.
During debate, senators spoke of pride they felt for working together to win unanimous approval for increased unemployment benefits. Like the House, the Senate is Republican-controlled.
“This is a good moment for us,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, the minority leader. “We’ve all spent many, many hours and days fielding those calls from our constituents who are struggling with the unemployment system, and I want to thank our partners here in the Senate who are hearing the cries of our constituents...”
Farmer pointed out that the bill also allows a so-called alternate base period that he said is “good for seasonable workers” and “helps people recover the maximum amount of money they’d be entitled to.”
Brodeur, the Seminole County senator, referred to his bill as “just an effort to raise levels to meet the needs of Floridians.”
“In the last decade, the cost of living’s risen, the cost of housing has exploded,” he said, “and we need to respond.”