The U.S. Department of Labor has rapped the state of Florida for making it difficult for some unemployed people to get jobless benefits, particularly for the disabled and those who speak Spanish or Creole.
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, the Miami Workers Center and other groups.
DEO defended its program, and said the Department of Labor knew about the changes before they took place.
"DEO questions many of the initial findings by DOL," DEO spokesperson Monica Russell said in a statement. "DOL was aware of the legislative changes to the reemployment system before its passage in 2011 and provided no objection."
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 low English proficiency.
“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.