ORLANDO, Fla — Last March as Florida’s multi-million dollar unemployment system buckled under the weight of COVID-19 lockdowns, leaving people without answers or income for weeks on end, lawmakers promised solutions.
Earlier this week Floridians got their first glimpse of what possible improvements could be coming.
Dane Eagle, the newly appointed head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, told lawmakers on Monday that retaining the current system is not an option.
“The Connect system was not built to receive the volume of claims we received during the pandemic,” said Eagle at a Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response on Monday.
Eagle and DEO are pushing for a cloud based system and asking for more than $70 million over the next two years for upgrades.
Getting payments out the door in a timely fashion is just one of Florida’s problems that were exposed during the pandemic, the other is the state’s low rate and limited weeks of unemployment.
At $275 for 12 weeks, Florida pays one of the lowest rates in the country.
“Within 60 seven counties our cost of living is totally different in Levy County to Collier County, 275 goes a lot differently in both, so is there an opportunity to use the data to see if your county of residence should be something that drives the calculation,” said Sen. Jason Brodeur (R- SD9).
This week, Brodeur introduced a bill (SB 1906) to raise the level of unemployment assistance to $375 a week. So far, Brodeur’s bill has not received a hearing; however, the idea of raising the weekly rate seems to have the backing of Senate leadership.
“I’m willing to embrace an increase,” says Senate President Wilton Simpson. “We need to take a serious look at bringing that 275 up to something higher than that.”