Federal gov't blasts Florida's unemployment compensation system for denying civil rights

April 25, 2013 

The U.S. Department of Labor has rapped the state of Florida for making it difficult for some unemployed people to get jobless benefits, according to several groups that challenged recent changes to the program.

Florida's decision in 2011 to make people who apply for benefits do so online and take an "assessment" before getting a check are a violation of civil rights, DOL found.

The Department of Economic Opportunity has agreed to enter negotiations with DOL to make appropriate changes, according to a press release from the National Employment Law Center, Florida Legal Services and other groups.

At 16 percent, Florida recently ranked lowest in the nation for the “recipiency rate” of jobless benefits (i.e., the number of eligible people receiving aid.)

Many blamed changes made by Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature for the low rate of jobless benefits recipiency. A 2011 law forced all applicants for benefits to do so online, putting an end to applications by phone or paper. The law also required applicants to take a 45-question “assessment” to gauge their skills. Several groups filed a legal challenge saying the changes were discriminatory against those with disabilities and language problems.

“The online requirements created severe obstacles for thousands of Florida jobseekers, especially those with limited English proficiency or disabilities that prevent them from using a computer,” the pro-worker groups said in a statement.

The DOL’s Civil Rights Center agreed with that sentiment and has ruled the changes discriminatory against people who are disabled and have trouble with English, the groups said.

The groups also filed a separate, broader challenge against the changes, saying they create “unlawful barriers” to jobless aid for all applicants. That challenged, filed last May, remains pending.

The pro-worker groups have called a press conference for Thursday afternoon to discuss the DOL findings.

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