Florida’s requirement for unemployment benefits is unconstitutional
By Roger Caldwell
It looks like Governor Scott again is on the wrong side of the law and the citizens of Florida. Many of the poor, the minorities, people with disabilities, and workers with limited English proficiency do not own or understand how to operate a computer. In 2011, Governor Scott reformed Florida’s unemployment insurance system by signing a bill, which mandated Floridians to apply for unemployment benefits on a computer.
Before this change was made 40 percent of Floridians who applied for unemployment benefits did it using a phone. “A broken phone system coupled with no alternative to the online processes left many unemployed Floridians effectively shut out from much needed unemployment insurance,” said Valory Greenfield who was one of the attorneys who filed a complaint with the Labor Department.
The Miami Workers Center and the National Employment Law Project filed a complaint with the Labor Department when Governor Scott mandated initial applicants for unemployment benefits must be online and take an online skills test. Tens of thousands Floridians failed to finish the math and reading test and this new rule drastically reduced the number of unemployed qualifying for benefits. The governor also used the new law to slash benefits from 26 weeks to as few as 12 weeks.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center has issued an initial determination finding that Florida’s requirement that all unemployment insurance claimants file their applications online and take an online skills test violates federal civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. The investigation by the Department of Labor found that English information on the Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity website was not translated correctly into Creole or Spanish. There was no sufficient phone help for residents looking for help from a live person and no notice that without taking the skills test, you could be exempt from getting benefits.
Florida has until May 28 to voluntarily fix the unemployment system or face a civil fine by the U.S. Attorney General’s office which could cut federal funding for the state’s unemployment program. Without the federal regulators looking over Governor Scott’s shoulder, it is no telling what he will try, because he does not care about everyone in the state.
There are tens of thousands of Floridian families who qualified for unemployment benefits, were refused access to a benefit they had worked for, because of the new law. As a result of creating barriers for unemployment benefits, Florida’s unemployment numbers look great, but they are not accurate. Many of those who are unemployed never got on the unemployment state rolls, because their application was refused.
Governor Scott and his administration have devastated tens of thousands of Floridians families and I hope that the system can be corrected and many families will receive retroactive benefits. Again Scott is on the wrong side of the law, Floridians and their families, and he cannot be trusted. He has never cared about the minorities, the poor and Florida families, and Floridians must remember this in 2014 in the election booth.