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  • On April 8th, 2020,

  • a few hundred people in Florida broke the state's stay-at-home order

  • to go wait in this line.

  • Hundreds of thousands of people had lost their jobs,

  • and applied for unemployment benefits through Florida's online system.

  • But the people in this line had come out to get these:

  • paper applications.

  • Because for thousands in Florida, the website wasn't working.

  • "Problems from almost the moment it went online..."

  • "Plagued with site crashes and glitches..."

  • "The process to file is nearly impossible."

  • Americans have lost their jobs all over the country.

  • But the kind of help they can get depends on what state they live in.

  • That's because the US doesn't really have one unemployment system; it has 53 of them.

  • Each state and territory has their own, and the differences between them are huge.

  • In places like New Jersey and Massachusetts, before the economy crashed,

  • a little more than half of all workers without jobs were collecting unemployment benefits.

  • In Florida, less than 10% of unemployed people were getting them.

  • In places like Florida, the complicated, hard-to-use unemployment system

  • isn't a mistake.

  • It's doing exactly what it was designed to do.

  • Back during the Great Recession, lots of people were out of work.

  • State unemployment systems were in overdrive.

  • In many states, the funds that fed those systems were running out of cash

  • So lots of states, including Florida, raised taxes on businesses.

  • That made lots of business owners unhappy.

  • In the 2010 and 2012 elections, several states elected Republican governors

  • who promised to reverse those tax hikes.

  • "Any tax increase kills jobs."

  • In 2011, when Rick Scott took office,

  • Florida employers paid $319 per worker in unemployment taxes.

  • By 2019, when he left,

  • they were paying $50 per worker.

  • The lowest rate in the country.

  • But that meant Florida's system was underfunded again.

  • So, the new governor and the Republican legislature started finding ways

  • to pay less money to fewer people.

  • They cut weekly payments,

  • and reduced the number of weeks you could collect unemployment if you were laid off.

  • But they also redesigned the system itself.

  • In 2011, Florida governor Rick Scott signed a law

  • that moved the state's entire unemployment application process online.

  • The new system was notoriously difficult to use.

  • "No money, and no answers, because of problems with the state's new $63 million unemployment website."

  • In 2019, Florida's state auditor released a report on the state's unemployment system.

  • It noted that it frequently gave incorrect error messages,

  • and would often prevent the submission of an application entirely.

  • Honestly, I'm an unemployment insurance expert,

  • and some of the screenshots I've been seeing don't make any sense to me.

  • I talked to Michele Evermore, an unemployment lawyer and researcher.

  • It's clear that there is a very intentional movement

  • to make benefits difficult to access, just by making the computer system difficult.

  • First, Florida's unemployment application itself is extremely difficult to complete.

  • Think about the last form you filled out online. You probably started at the top with some

  • basic identifying information, then filled in more boxes as you scrolled down.

  • But to submit a claim on Florida's unemployment website,

  • you submit just a few bits of information at a time,

  • then click to a new page, and hope it's all being saved.

  • Each time you hit submit, and a new page has to load,

  • that's a new opportunity for the system to crash and kick you out.

  • Next, if you do get through the process

  • Some Florida politicians have blamed the system's problems on Deloitte,

  • the contractor the state used to help build the new online system back in 2013.

  • But that same year, Deloitte also helped Massachusetts build its online system.

  • Using the same basic framework,

  • Massachusetts has been able to get benefits to a much greater percentage of jobless people than Florida.

  • Everybody's trying to blame the computer,

  • but in reality, it's the politics.

  • It's not the computer's fault.

  • The computer does what you tell it to do.

  • In response to the pandemic, Congress gave states more than a billion dollars

  • to boost unemployment benefits,

  • and made gig workers and freelancers eligible for them.

  • But all workers still have to go through state systems, like Florida's, to get those benefits.

  • At some point in their working lives, 4 out of 5 Americans

  • will need to access safety net programs like unemployment insurance.

  • But these programs benefit that 1 out of 5, too.

  • It keeps money churning in the economy when there's a downturn.

  • For every dollar spent in unemployment insurance benefits, $1.61 was generated

  • in local economic activity.

  • It's increasingly clear that our physical health is linked to that of our neighbors.

  • It turns out, our economic health is, too.

On April 8th, 2020,

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Why it's so hard to get unemployment benefits

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/08/12
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