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After two decades, Florida’s low unemployment benefits could get a boost

ORLANDO, Fla. — The last time Florida adjusted its weekly unemployment benefit, you could get a Big Mac for about $2.50; today that same burger will cost you $4.69.

While the price of a Big Mac has almost doubled since 1998, Florida’s weekly unemployment benefit has not budged, still locked at $275 a week. Florida is currently tied with Alabama for the fourth lowest weekly benefit, behind only Mississippi, Arizona and Louisiana.

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For more than two decades Florida lawmakers resisted adjusting the weekly payment, citing the cost to businesses. However, following the pandemic when hundreds of thousands of Floridians suddenly needed the money only to find out how little was offered, there is new momentum to add more money.

“Unemployment benefits are designed to temporarily fulfill unemployed worker’s most basic needs so they can provide for themselves and their families while they actively pursue new gainful employment,” said Sen Jason Brodeur (R – SD 09), introducing his bill to raise the benefit from $275 a week to $375 a week.

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The bill (SB 1906) would also change the maximum amount in any benefit year from $6,325 to $8,625. This proposed increase would move Florida closer to the middle of the pack in weekly benefits although the benefit would still be well below the national average of $474 a week.

“I believe my bill is a good starting point and I look forward to having discussions beyond just looking at the averages across all 50 states,” said Brodeur.

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On Monday the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted 9-1 to advance the bill, with Republicans and Democrats both backing the plan, although Democrats did express concerns that the bill does not include automatic increases, leaving the state open to going another two decades without adjusting the weekly benefit amount.

“Why are we walking into another bill situation that we are hoping the legislature revisits years from now,” asked Sen Jason Pizzo (D – SD 38). “Why don’t we just lock this into what minimum wage is, surely those qualifying for unemployment assistance are in the workplace and earning at least minimum wage?”

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Brodeur, who said he is not opposed to the idea, did say without an estimate from Florida’s revenue estimating conference, lawmakers would have no idea what future obligations would be and if they would have to raise taxes to meet those obligations.

The bill if passed and signed into law would go into effect on July 1

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