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Florida's Long-Term Unemployed In Crisis Following Benefit Cuts

United States Senate

A new report out this week says this month’s cuts to federal long-term unemployment benefits is hitting Florida hard.Despite a dramatic drop in the state’s unemployment rate, Florida still has a large population of people who’ve been looking for work for more than six months. That's according to a report from Florida International University’s Center for Labor Research and Studies.

The cutoff in emergency benefits also comes as the state cuts back aid. Beginning this month, Florida’s unemployment benefits were rolled back from 19 to 16 weeks.

Florida is one of just seven states that offer fewer than 26 weeks of coverage, but the average duration of unemployment in Florida last year was the highest in the country.

Additionally, the troubled Florida CONNECT website used to process unemployment benefits has made it difficult for many jobless to even apply for help.

Ali Bustamante, visiting professor and research associate at Florida International University’s Center for Labor Research and Studies joined Melissa Ross via phone to discuss the new report.

"Already there have been about 73,000 Floridians affected by these changes," Bustamante said. "If the unemployment compensation cuts continue, by the end of the year we're actually going to see a total of 260,00 Florida workers affected."

According to the study, the majority of people affected are 45-years-old or older. While there may be a higher rate of unemployment among young people, older people tend to stay undmployed longer.

African-Americans are also proportionately affected more than Caucasian residents.

Bustamante pointed state legislation that creates an automatic trigger to reduce the length of unemployment benefits based on the state's unemployment rate and the struggling CONNECT website as the two main factors leading to uncertainty by residents as to whether they can get help.

The report also points out that the recently improved unemployment rate doesn't necessarily mean that there are more jobs being created in the state.

"There's a lot of people today in the state of Florida who are actually just dropping out of the labor force," he said. "They are no longer looking for work and as a result they are no longer counted in state unemployment statistics."

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to proceed with consideration on a bill to extend federal long-term unemployment benefits, but the measure still faces hurdles in both the Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.