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Cost of living not factored into unemployment benefits since 1998 in Florida

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Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 18:31:52-04

As the number of people filing for unemployment grew into the millions last year William Sipla began to see how vulnerable he was.

“It was daunting, it’s not real until it hits you that you might lose your home,” he said.

He describes the feeling as catastrophic. It was just two days ago he reached out to ABC Action News after he received a 3-day eviction notice. He’s one of many that have been stuck in a revolving glitch in the CONNECT system that has locked him in and out of his account and kept him from his money.

“It’s like they try to put a roadblock between roadblocks to keep people from collecting their benefits, when you’ve worked 15, 20 years and you need sudden help you’re the bad guy,” he said.

It makes getting ahead nearly impossible, especially when you take a look at how much jobless Floridian’s are getting per week in unemployment benefits. $275 is the maximum yet some aren’t even getting that — and the cost of living hasn’t been factored into that number in more than two decades.

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“The economy is completely different than it was 30 or so years ago, but the policies haven’t changed to keep up with those changes,” said Michael Snipes, an Economic instructor at USF in Sarasota.

The cost of living is 64% higher now than it was in 1998. To break that down, for every $1 you spent in ’98, you’re now spending $1.64.

“That can make it very tough for people in certain circumstances, that could lead to people losing their apartments losing their house, ending up living in their car,” said Snipes.

If the state did factor in the cost of living right now, the unemployment weekly benefit would nearly double at $444.

“If that was raised it’s just gonna go back to them,” said Ricardo Hernandez, who is currently unemployed. “Because I’m going to use that money to go shop and buy things and live and it’s gonna all cycle back.”

And as Florida continues to open, and businesses say they can’t find enough employees to hire, some people can’t understand why folks who are still unemployed aren’t going back to work. Snipes says it goes hand in hand with minimum wage.

“When we think of these people we have this incorrect picture of who these people are, it’s not just some teenager, it’s not just some person living off the system,” he said. “It’s people with families, it’s adults, it’s people in their 30s.”

Folks who may not be able to take on a job that only pays minimum wage especially if they have children and can’t work multiple jobs.

“Instead of saying why aren’t people taking these eight dollar an hour jobs, why are these firms offering such a low wage in the first place?” Snipes asked.

Voters approved Amendment 2 last year, which gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. But some lawmakers in the House and Governor Ron DeSantis do not think the unemployment weekly benefit needs to be raised.

“Increase benefits? Look no, I think we’re getting people back to work,” DeSantis said, at a press conference. “Our unemployment is what is it, it’s fine.”

In the Senate, lawmakers voted unanimously to increase the benefits by $100 but because the House doesn’t agree — it’s off the table for now. It’s something Sipla is perplexed and disheartened by.

“We spent billions of dollars here, billions of dollars there, but it seems like we don’t put the money in to support their own people,” he said.