Florida Under Seige


As a Floridian that was laid off from his six year job last month, but didn’t qualify for unemployment insurance - I can speak with authority that Florida’s 60 year unemployment safety net program suffered severely since being gutted last year by Governor Scott.

Check out THIS, THIS, THIS - and the stuff below.


Florida law thwarts jobless benefits, advocates tell feds

By Jim Stratton
Orlando Sentinel
May 24, 2012

Advocates for the unemployed called Thursday for a federal investigation of a Florida law they say systematically tries to prevent laid-off workers from receiving jobless benefits.

State regulations approved last year have made Florida the toughest state in the nation in which to get jobless benefits, detractors say, lowering significantly the percentage of the unemployed who now qualify for benefits.

The National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services want the U.S. Labor Department to investigate and overturn the regulations that tightened the state’s unemployment-eligibility rules.

“The state is blocking workers from accessing help they are qualified for and twisting the knife in the state’s ailing economy,” said Valory Greenfield, a senior attorney with Florida Legal Services. “Nowhere in the country is it this hard to get help when you lose a job.”

In 2011, 17 percent of the unemployed in Florida received benefits. Nationally, the figure was 27 percent. In the fourth quarter of the year, Florida’s rate fell to 15 percent.

The law affects the state’s most vulnerable, Greenfield said.

“We’re talking about people who are hungry, whose rent is due, whose mortgage is due.”

A spokesman for the Department of Economic Opportunity said the state consulted with federal officials before the measure became law.

He said the state “welcomes any review and is certain” that the “legislation is in full compliance” with federal law.

The law changed how workers apply for benefits, ending, for example, the option of filing for them over the phone. It also requires claimants to keep track of their work-search efforts and submit those online.

Both groups said that creates unnecessary hurdles for people who can’t easily go online.

The law also requires laid-off workers to complete a 45-question skills assessment, featuring 15 items on applied math, 15 on reading comprehension and 15 on locating information.

The complaint says state officials assured federal regulators the assessment would be used only as a condition of continuing eligibility. But the state has used it, they say, as a prerequisite for benefits.

Greenfield said the state has done a poor job of making clear that applicants must complete the test within 17 days of filing for benefits. She also said many applicants are confused because there is a second skills test on the state’s Employ Florida website.

“People think that’s the one they need to complete,” she said.

NELP and Florida Legal Services said between August 2011 and mid-April 2012, more than 43,000 people were denied benefits because they did not finish the initial skills review. Through the first three months of this year, denials related to procedural mistakes were up 200 percent compared with the same time last year.

Arthur Rosenberg, a staff attorney with Florida Legal Services, said, “these are people who are eligible, but were unable to access the benefits they’re entitled to.”

The complaint reflects a philosophical difference in how unemployment insurance is viewed. Worker advocates see it as an earned benefit - something an employee gets only after establishing a work history. But many business owners consider it akin to an assistance program financed by payments they make to the unemployment trust fund.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Florida Legislature have made reducing the number of people on unemployment a POLICY GOAL. They have pursued that by trying to bring more jobs to the state and by tightening eligibility criteria.

The state has long had some of the least generous benefits in the country - a maximum of $275 per week and last year’s actions burnished that reputation.

The legislation being challenged also cut the total number of weeks available under state unemployment from 26 to 23 and tied maximum weeks available to the statewide unemployment rate.

As unemployment falls, the number of weeks someone can collect falls with it. Once the jobless rate hits 5 percent, the total number of weeks drops to 12 weeks. IN APRIL, the state’s unemployment rate was 8.7 percent.



Gov. Rick Scott, Aren’t You Going To Apologize To Welfare Recipients?

By Susie Madrak
Crooks and Liars
August 11, 2011

Since the state began TESTING welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows.

Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free—leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests.

The initiative may save the state a few dollars anyway, bearing out one of Gov. Rick Scott’s arguments for implementing it. But the low test fail-rate UNDERCUTS another of his arguments: that people on welfare are more likely to use drugs.

At Scott’s urging, the Legislature implemented the new requirement earlier this year that applicants for temporary cash assistance pass a drug test before collecting any benefits.

The law, which took effect July 1, (and STRUCK DOWN AS UNCONSTITUTIONAL two years later. ed.) requires applicants to pay for their own drug tests. Those who test drug-free are reimbursed by the state, and those who fail cannot receive benefits for a year.

[...] Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.

That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month’s worth of rejected applicants.

The savings assume that 20 to 30 people—2 percent of 1,000 to 1,500 tested—fail the drug test every month. On average, a welfare recipient costs the state $134 in monthly benefits, which the rejected applicants won’t get, saving the state $2,680-$3,350 per month.

But since one failed test disqualifies an applicant for a full year’s worth of benefits, the state could save $32,200-$48,200 annually on the applicants rejected in a single month.

Net savings to the state—$3,400 to $8,200 annually on one month’s worth of rejected applicants. Over 12 months, the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800-$98,400 for the cash assistance program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year.

Actual savings will vary, however, since not all of the applicants denied benefits might have actually collected them for the full year. Under certain circumstances, applicants who failed their drug test can reapply for benefits after six months.

[...] More than once, Scott has said publicly that people on welfare use drugs at a higher rate than the general population. The 2 percent test fail rate seen by DCF, however, does not bear that out.



Florida GOP Takes Voter Suppression to a Brazen New Extreme

By Ari Berman
Rolling Stone
May 30, 2012

Imagine this: a Republican governor in a crucial battleground state instructs his secretary of state to purge the voting rolls of hundreds of thousands of allegedly ineligible voters. The move disenfranchises thousands of legally registered voters, who happen to be overwhelmingly black and Hispanic Democrats. The number of voters prevented from casting a ballot exceeds the margin of victory in the razor-thin election, which ends up determining the next President of the United States.

If this scenario sounds familiar, thats because it happened in Florida in 2000. And twelve years later, just months before another presidential election, history is repeating itself.

Back in 2000, 12,000 eligible voters - a number twenty-two times larger than George W. Bush’s 537 vote triumph over Al Gore - were wrongly identified as convicted felons and purged from the voting rolls in Florida, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. African Americans, who favored Gore over Bush by 86 points, accounted for 11 percent of the states electorate but 41 percent of those purged. Jeb Bush attempted a repeat performance in 2004 to help his brother win reelection but was forced to back off in the face of a public outcry. Yet with another close election looming, Florida Republicans have returned to their voter-scrubbing ways.

The LATEST PURGE comes on the heels of a trio of NEW VOTING RESTRICTIONS passed by Florida Republicans last year, disenfranchising 100,000 previously eligible ex-felons who’d been granted the right to vote under GOP Governor Charlie Crist in 2008; shutting down non-partisan voter registration drives; and cutting back on early voting. The measures, the effect of which will be to depress Democratic turnout in November, are similar to voting curbs passed by Republicans in more than a dozen states, on the bogus pretext of combating “voter fraud” but with the very deliberate goal of shaping the electorate to the GOP’s advantage before a single vote has been cast.

Florida Republicans have taken voter suppression to a brazen extreme. After the 2010 election, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, instructed Secretary of State Ken Browning to compile a massive database of alleged “NON-CITIZEN" VOTERS. Browning resigned in February rather than implement Scott’s plan, saying “we were not confident enough about the information for this secretary to hang his hat on it.”

But in early May his successor, Ken Detzner, a former beer-industry lobbyist, announced a list of 182,000 suspected non-citizens to be removed from the voting rolls, along with 50,000 apparently dead voters. (Seven thousand alleged felons had already been scrubbed from the rolls in the first four months of 2012). On May 8, the state mailed out a first batch of 2,600 letters to Florida residents informing them, “you are not a United States citizen; however you are registered to vote.” If the recipients do not reply within thirty days and affirm their U.S. citizenship, they will be dropped from the voter rolls.

The first batch of names was riddled with inaccuracies. For example, as the progressive blog THINK PROGRESS NOTED, “an excess of 20 percent of the voters flagged as ‘non-citizens’ in Miami-Dade are, in fact, citizens. And the actual number may be much higher.” If this ratio holds for the rest of the names on the non-citizens list, more than 35,000 eligible voters could be disenfranchised. Those alleged non-citizens have already included a 91-year-old WORLD WAR II VETERAN whos voted since he was 18 and a 60-year-old KENNL OWNER who has voted in the state for four decades. It’s impossible to quantify how many eligible voters will be scrubbed from the rolls if theyve moved, aren’t home, dont have ready access to citizenship documents, or wonҒt bother to reply to the menacing letter.

“There are lots of things that can go wrong when you have these large-scale systematic purges,” says Myrna Perez, senior counsel in the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “They need to be done really carefully, with a lot of transparency, well in advance of the election. And this is too close.” Florida Republicans are following the lead of GOP SECRETARIES OF STATE in places like Colorado and New Mexico, whove made outlandish and unsubstantiated claims about non-citizens voting based on sketchy data, bad methodology, and anti-immigrant sentiment.

The purge has sparked a bipartisan outcry from local election officials in Florida. “The state’s supervisors of elections are very, very disturbed,” says Ian Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County, which includes the state capital of Tallahassee. “This was dumped into our laps at the 11th hour. Those of us who have been here long enough get this eerie similarity to the flawed felon databases of 2000 in Florida.”

Adds Deirdre McNabb, president of the Florida League of Women Voters: “We are very, very concerned about this news because of the track record in this state of purging thousands of voters who should not have been purged. Were deeply troubled and appalled this is happening just months before a major national election.”

As in 2000, the purge disproportionately targets DEMOCRATIC VOTERS. Two-thirds of the alleged non-citizens on the initial purge list reside in heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County, which supported Obama by 17 points over McCain in 2008. The county had the third highest number of naturalized citizens from 2009 to 2011, meaning that many new citizens could very likely be listed as non-citizens in the state databases. Florida Hispanics, who voted 57 percent for Obama in 2008, are only 13 percent of the state’s electorate but make up 58 percent of the non-citizens list. Whites, by contrast, account for 68 percent of registered Florida voters but only 13 percent of alleged non-citizens. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the list by two to one. “Attempts to purge the voter roll so soon after signing one of the nations most controversial voting laws raises concern, especially among young and minority voters,” Florida Senator Bill Nelson wrote in a letter to Scott.

Minority voters also bore the brunt of the voting restrictions passed by the GOP last year. Hispanic and African-American voters were twice as likely as white voters to register to vote through non-partisan voter registration drives run by the likes of Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters, which had to suspend their registration efforts in the state due to new onerous bureaucratic requirements, which threaten to turn civic-minded volunteers into criminals. As a result, black and Hispanic voter registration has declined 10 percent in Florida relative to 2008, according to the Washington Post, with 81,000 fewer voters registered during a comparable period in 08, says the New York Times. African Americans also made up 54 percent of early voters in 2008; early voting has subsequently been cut from 14 to 8 days, with no voting on Sunday before the election, when black churches historically mobilize their constituents. (The Department of Justice has objected to the changes under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against minority voters.)

The registration and early-voting restrictions took effect one day after the law passed, under an emergency statute designed for “an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare.” Like the purge, the election changes were sold under the banner of “voting integrity,” even though so-called voter fraud cases are virtually non-existent in Florida, as in the rest of the country. From 2008 to 2011, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement received just 31 complaints of suspected voter fraud, resulting in only three arrests statewide. “No one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about,” said Mike Fasano, a Republican state senator who opposed the new restrictions.

The state has already pledged that “several thousand” more alleged non-citizens will be targeted from the purge list. “The state told us weҒre going to get names routinely,” says Carolina Lopez, special project administrator for the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections. The purge is likely to be challenged by a host of voting rights groups under the National Voter Registration Act, which prohibits changes to the voter rolls ninety days before an election (Florida holds state and local primaries on August 14). The Justice Department could also intervene under the authority of the Voting Rights Act. But, despite widespread condemnation, theres no sign that Gov. Scott is preparing to reverse course.

Following the 2000 election, a major report from the US Commission on Civil Rights found that “statistical data, reinforced by credible anecdotal evidence, point to the widespread denial of voting rights [in Florida].” Ian Sancho, the Leon County elections official, says the political climate surrounding voting in the state is even “more hyper-partisan than in 2000,” which is hard to fathom. If the presidential election is once again decided in the Sunshine State, heaven help us all.