Gov. Scott’s Record of Delivering Jobless Aid to Hurricane Victims Was Worst of Any Florida Governor in 30 Years

NELP Action Fund
For Immediate Release: April 18, 2018 — Updated May 3, 2018

Tallahassee, FL—Floridians who lost pay and were out of work as a result of Hurricane Irma last year received little assistance from Governor Rick Scott and his administration. A new analysis of state data on Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) from the National Employment Law Project Action Fund (NELP Action) shows that Governor Scott notched the worst record of any Florida governor in the last 30 years when it came to enabling Floridians to apply for and receive the federally-funded jobless aid.

“Governor Rick Scott may be touring the state touting his record after Irma, but for Floridians who were forced out of work by the hurricane and needed unemployment assistance, Governor Scott was missing in action,” said Paul Sonn, director of NELP Action. “He helped fewer workers and small business owners get jobless aid after the hurricane than any Florida governor in 30 years.”

Only 3,744 workers and small business owners received any DUA payments in the six months after Irma, a mere 53 percent of the people who managed to apply for DUA and were found eligible by the Scott Administration. That is the lowest share of eligible claimants receiving DUA in the last 30 years. More than a third of those receiving DUA only saw their first benefit payment in March 2018 — six months after Hurricane Irma — according to state data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“I saw first-hand how the Scott Administration botched relief for people who’d lost their livelihoods because of Irma,” said Jennifer Hill, a Miami-based legal advocate. “Hurricane victims couldn’t find out how to apply for unemployment insurance online, and back-up phone lines were either shut down or transferred callers out of state to people who couldn’t help them. There’s no question that the Scott administration failed tens of thousands of working Floridians.”

Moreover, only 7,229 Floridians were able to even file a completed DUA claim after Irma—fewer than for any other major disaster except one (Hurricane Jeanne, the last of the four 2004 hurricanes) in the last 30 years in which DUA compensation totaled $1 million or more. For weeks after Irma, the Scott Administration’s online claims system failed to list DUA as an option, and its back-up phone lines often were shut down, left callers on hold, or transferred calls to out-of-state agents who couldn’t file claims. The administration’s promises to fix the system never materialized.

By comparison, 26,370 DUA claims were filed in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and 8,506 received benefits—more than twice as many as in Florida after Irma. And that was despite Florida’s Irma-affected workforce being more than twice the size of that affected by Harvey in Texas, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.

“Governor Scott has made restricting access to unemployment benefits a cornerstone of his tenure in office,” said Dwight Bullard, political director of Florida New Majority. “From the rampant website problems attributed to his lack of compassion for families impacted by the ‘Great Recession’ or the suggestion that those receiving any government benefits should be drug tested. Governor Scott has proven time and time again that working families in Florida are not the constituency he is focused on. The hurricane relief debacle is just the latest in a line of anti-working class policies and efforts supported by Gov. Scott.”

Key findings in the analysis include the following:

  • Overall, Rick Scott has the worst record of any Florida governor in 30 years in helping workers and small business owners apply for and receive post-hurricane unemployment assistance.
  • Although Floridians affected by Irma were by far the largest workforce in the U.S. affected by a major disaster in 2017, and even though Irma ranks as the fifth-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, just 7,229 Floridians were able to submit DUA applications after Irma under the Scott Administration’s system.
  • That’s the lowest number of DUA jobless claims after any major Florida hurricane in 30 years, except for after 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne.
  • Those lowest-in-30-years numbers are all the more shocking because Florida’s population today is 20 percent larger than it was in 2004.
  • Among the few workers and small business owners who managed to apply for DUA and who were found eligible, the Scott Administration got benefits out to just 53 percent—3,744 of the 7,026 eligible applications.
  • That’s the lowest rate for any Florida governor in 30 years after a major hurricane.
  • More than a third of Floridians receiving DUA after Irma only saw a first benefit payment in March 2018 — six months after the hurricane.
  • Rick Scott’s record of getting DUA benefits out to 53 percent of eligible applicants after Irma compares poorly with the 70% average of other Florida governors like Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles after major hurricanes going back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when fully 90 percent of those eligible received help.

The Scott Administration’s failure to deliver DUA aid after Irma was symptomatic of his administration’s worst-in-the-nation state unemployment insurance (UI) program, now renamed Reemployment Assistance (RA). Since Governor Scott took office, the share of jobless workers receiving those benefits has fallen by more than half, to just 10 percent—last among the 50 states—while the maximum length of benefits has also been cut by more than half to just 12 weeks, the fewest in the nation. And Florida’s average weekly benefit amount ($246) is 47th among the states.

As of mid-November, the Scott Administration had processed only 30,646 disaster-related RA claims after Irma, compared to 136,811 disaster-related UI claims in Texas after Harvey.

“Sadly, Governor Rick Scott’s failure to help jobless Floridians post-Irma caps a long track record of slashing jobless aid and creating barriers to make it harder for unemployed Floridians to access such aid,” said NELP Action’s Paul Sonn. “In the wake of Hurricane Irma, when Florida’s workers and small business owners found themselves out of work with no income and desperately needing help from the state, Governor Rick Scott was M.I.A. in delivering DUA unemployment aid.”

DOWNLOAD THE FACT SHEET:
Rick Scott’s Record Helping Jobless Workers and Small Business Owners After Hurricane Irma

 

The National Employment Law Project Action Fund is a project of The Advocacy Fund.

 

With Control of the Senate in the Balance…

Voter Turn-Out Program Focused on Raising the Minimum Wage to Kick Off in Key States

Polling shows minimum wage is a motivating issue for swing state voters

New report finds 27 million workers paid less than $15 reside in states with GOP senators who voted against wage hikes and whose seats are up in the 2016 elections

Top voter-mobilization organizations in nine states – including six states with closely watched U.S. Senate races – announced a massive grassroots canvassing operation to launch on Oct. 8. The program focuses on turning out voters around the urgent need to raise the minimum wage. Polling shows that raising the minimum wage commands strong bipartisan support, and voters are more likely to back candidates who favor raising the federal minimum wage.

Focused on bringing attention to candidate records on minimum wage in key senate races, scores of canvassers will knock on doors and talk to voters about the unprecedented opportunity to end Washington gridlock on raising the federal minimum wage. The effort comes as a new report from NELP Action shows that 27 million workers paid less than $15 live in states with Republican senators who voted against minimum wage hikes and whose seats are contested this year.

“For the 27 million workers who are paid less than $15 per hour in those states where Republican Senate seats are up in this election, it’s really not a question of what is keeping wages low—it is a question of who,” said Christine Owens, executive director of NELP Action.

The National Employment Law Project Action Fund, the Working Families Party and the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, along with labor and grassroots partners, pledged to knock on tens of thousands of doors over the weekend in the states with closely contested senate races including Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

In Arizona, as many as 500 canvassers and volunteers will be trained to knock on doors and talk to voters about the need to raise the wage, while 100 canvassers will in Philadelphia alone are expected to mobilize voters around raising pay.

Canvassers will also hit doors in Maine, Michigan and Vermont.

“We are bringing the movement for raising the minimum wage to the ballot box in November so that Russ Feingold can bring it to the halls of the U.S. Senate in the new Congress,” said Peter Rickman, Co-Chair of the Wisconsin Working Families Party. “Working class people are tired of Senators like Ron Johnson standing in the way of policies to reward hard work with fair pay. We are mobilizing and organizing working class people as voters to elect a Senator who will unrig this system and make the economy work for all of us, not just those at the top.”

The canvass comes as a new report from NELP Action examines how obstructionism on the issue by Republican senators has held down wages for millions of their own constituents. The report posits that “the 2016 elections offer a historic opportunity for working people to take decisive action at the ballot box to boost wages and working families’ incomes.”

Key findings in the report include:

  • 27 million workers who are paid less than $15 an hour live in the 24 states where Republican-held seats are up in 2016. This includes nearly 20 million who are paid less than $12 an hour.
  • Of the 21 states where the minimum wage is stuck at $7.25, 16 of them have Republican-held seats that are up in the 2016 elections.
  • Senate Republicans are siding with corporate lobbyists to deny new overtime pay guarantees to 12.5 million modestly-paid salaried workers. This includes 5.8 million in the 24 states where Republican-held Senate seats are up in 2016.

A late August poll by Public Policy Polling demonstrates the electoral potency of the minimum wage. In seven key swing states, support for incumbent Republican senators swung to Democratic challengers when respondents were made aware of their senator’s votes against the minimum wage. In Arizona, Missouri, and North Carolina that information allowed the Democratic challenger to pull ahead. A poll of underpaid workers by Harris Interactive and Yougov last year showed among registered voters paid less than $15, 65% are more likely to vote in the upcoming election if there is a candidate on the ballot who supports $15/hr and a union for all workers.

“For going on a decade, Republican senators like Pat Toomey have stood in the way of raising pay for families like mine,” said Melissa Hernandez, a group home worker who is volunteering on Saturday with Make the Road Pennsylvania. “I’m hitting the doors on Saturday to tell other underpaid workers that we have the power to break the gridlock in Washington – we just have to come out and use it at the ballot box on Nov. 8.”

 

Trump’s Maternity Leave Proposal Is Smoke and Mirrors

The following statement can be attributed to Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund:

“Donald Trump says he has a plan to provide six weeks of maternity leave to working women. From the very limited detail that has been provided, it appears he is proposing paying new mothers six weeks of unemployment benefits and financing the payments by ‘eliminating fraud’ in the unemployment insurance program.

“We do not have much more detail than this, but based on the bare bones outline provided, we are convinced that the proposal fails to meet the medical and caregiving needs of today’s working families and also could cause serious damage to the nation’s unemployment insurance program.

“First, the Trump plan does not appear to include new fathers, and it would not extend to other forms of leave covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This proposal would not provide payment for the various other medical and caregiving needs covered under federal law—such as up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, or to recover from a personal illness or injury.

“Second, the proposal appears to compensate new mothers for only six weeks at levels provided by their state unemployment insurance (UI) programs. Unemployment insurance benefit levels are controlled by state law. There is wide variation between states. Nationally, the average unemployment benefit is only $338 and covers only about a third of a worker’s average weekly wage. Six states have maximum rates below $300. For example, under the Trump plan, a new mother in Florida could not receive a weekly benefit greater than $275. The Trump proposal would provide a benefit that carries with it all the geographical disparities and state deficiencies currently facing the unemployment insurance program.

“Third, the unemployment insurance program has never been less ready to take on the administration and financing of a new program. As of the end of 2015, just 18 states—and none of the 13 largest states, where a significant share of the U.S. workforce resides—met a federally recommended measure of preparedness that advises states to have enough reserves in their UI funds to cover at least a year of a recession. Thus, when the next crisis hits, the result will most surely be a repeat of the excessive federal borrowing by state programs, and even more severe benefit cuts, that without question will hurt families struggling with unemployment and further cripple state economies. All evidence suggests the opposite is needed for a sustainable recovery.

“Fourth, Mr. Trump erroneously buys into exaggerated claims of fraud in the UI system to pay for the new program. There are not enough savings to be derived from unemployment insurance fraud to pay for his proposal. Between 2006 and 2015, unemployment insurance fraud by claimants has been estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor at between 2.3 and 3.2 percent of regular unemployment benefits paid. Over the past three years, a 3 percent fraud rate equates to a little more than $1 billion a year of regular unemployment benefits—far less than needed to pay for this proposal.

“UI ‘fraud’ has become the favored pay-for and punching bag of politicians who have never been committed to the program. Congress has already mandated that states impose tougher penalties on fraud, and the Obama administration has held states to higher performance standards in recovering overpaid UI benefits. These efforts have been to insure the integrity of a program that for 80 years has been a central pillar of economic security for working Americans facing the harsh consequences of involuntary job loss.

“Every responsible paid family and medical leave proposal to date has been premised on a reliable revenue stream from dedicated taxes paid by employees and/or employers. Trump’s plan would rely on the already inadequate funding of a neglected unemployment insurance program that is not prepared for the next recession in order to finance a limited-duration benefit that for most affected workers would not come close to half their regular paycheck, and that would leave out more workers than it would cover. He proposes this—all while taking a cynical swipe at jobless Americans by inaccurately suggesting that there is enough unemployment insurance fraud to foot the bill. This not a serious proposal; it is smoke and mirrors.”

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The NELP Action Fund is a project of The Advocacy Fund, a non-profit organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.

New Battleground Poll: Control of Senate Could Hinge on Candidates’ Positions on Minimum Wage

For Release: Thursday, September 1, 2016

Media Contact: Rob Duffey, rob.duffey@berlinrosen.com, 646.463.3267

New BATTLEGROUND POLL: Control of Senate Could Hinge on Candidates’ positions on Minimum Wage

Voters in 7 states Overwhelmingly support raising minimum wage – and incumbents who oppose it pay a big penalty

Washington, DC – New polling shows voters in key swing states overwhelmingly support increasing the federal minimum wage and that candidates’ positions on raising pay could play a pivotal role in this year’s fight for control of the U.S. Senate. The results show incumbent Republican U.S. senators locked in close races could lose critical support – and even their seats – over opposition to raising wages for working people.

The polls were conducted Friday through Monday by Public Policy Polling in seven states with competitive Senate races – Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  In each of the seven states, voters are less likely to support their incumbent Republican senators when informed of their votes against raising the federal minimum wage above $7.25 per hour.

In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, Democratic challengers strengthen their lead when voters were made aware of the Republican senator’s voting record on the minimum wage. And in Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina Democratic challengers actually pull ahead, flipping the contests on their heads.

“The findings of the polls are clear: swing state voters in this election are looking for candidates who will stand with them in supporting a strong minimum wage increase.  Elected officials who oppose raising the minimum wage do so at their political peril,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.

In each state, at least 67% of voters support raising the federal minimum wage above its current level of $7.25 per hour, including 74% of voters in Pennsylvania and 72% of voters in North Carolina. At least 57% of voters back an increase to $15 per hour, including 63% in both Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

MW-poll-graphic1

“Voters are fed up with lack of action in Washington on raising wages for working people, and what we’re seeing is that just letting voters know where the candidates stand on these issues can have a significant impact,” said Dan Cantor, executive director of Working Families.

The poll was commissioned by the NELP Action Fund, which that conducts research and advocates on issues that affect low-wage and unemployed workers. NELP Action, which is a project of The Advocacy Fund, is partnering with the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, Working Families and dozens of grassroots groups in the seven states on a campaign to mobilize voters around the minimum wage in the 2016 election. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the coalition plans to engage in canvassing, hold candidate forums, and wage debate protests, among other actions, to energize voters around candidates’ positions on the raising the minimum wage.

Over the past three and a half years, more than 50 states, cities and counties have passed minimum wage increases via legislation or ballot initiative. Nearly 20 million workers have seen wage increases, and 10 million of those workers are on the path to a $15 wage. But the federal minimum wage remains at just $7.25 due to gridlock and obstructionism in Washington. More than 10 million workers across the seven states polled are paid less than $15 per hour, including more than 7 million who are paid less than $12 per hour. Low wages force taxpayers in these states to pick up $25 billion per year in public assistance to working families, according to the UC Berkley Center for Labor Research and Education.

“Voters deserve elected leaders who share their values and will stand with them on bedrock issues like good jobs and fair wages,” said JoEllen Chernow, Director of Economic Justice at the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund. “Over the next two months we’ll be letting voters know where the candidates are on giving America the raise it needs.”

MW-poll-graphic2

The PPP poll is the latest in a body of research that shows growing support for raising wages in America. In January 2015, Hart Research Associates found that 75% of Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage to $12.50, while 63% of Americans support raising the wage to $15. A poll of underpaid workers by Harris Interactive and Yougov last year showed among registered voters paid less than $15, 65% are more likely to vote in the upcoming election if a candidate supports $15 and a union for all workers.

 

READ THE POLLS.

New Battleground Poll: Obama Administration Overtime Rule Overwhelmingly Popular and Republicans Who Oppose It Pay a Penalty

For Release: Thursday, September 1, 2016

Media Contact: Rob Duffey, rob.duffey@berlinrosen.com, 646.828.0844

NEW BATTLEGROUND POLL: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OVERTIME RULE OVERWHELMINGLY POPULAR AND REPUBLICANS WHO OPPOSE IT PAY A PENALTY

VOTERS IN 7 STATES SUPPORT OT REGULATION FOR SALARIED WORKERS; LESS LIKELY TO VOTE FOR REPUBLICANS WHO OPPOSE IT

Washington, DC – A new poll shows that likely voters in 7 battleground states strongly support the Obama Administration rule expanding overtime pay, and that Republican incumbents who are trying to block the measure risk losing crucial support among voters. In May, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final overtime pay rule that expands and enhances eligibility for overtime for 12.5 million low-income and middle-class workers by raising the income threshold for full-time workers to $47,476 from $23,660.  But Congressional Republicans are leading a charge to block the regulations.

Forty-four Senate Republicans, including John McCain (R-AZ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI,) are co-sponsoring a resolution that would block these regulations in their entirety and ban the DOL from trying to update the regulations at all.  House Republicans have also offered riders to the DOL’s appropriations bill that would block the overtime rule.

“Americans are working more and more hours for less and less money – they need leaders who will fight for improved working conditions and expanded worker protections,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) Action Fund, a project of the Advocacy Fund and the nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that commissioned the poll. “This poll clearly shows that incumbents who carry water for big businesses and attempt to deny working people their basic rights stand to lose crucial support at the polls.”

The poll, conducted Friday through Monday by Public Policy Polling, asked voters in seven states with competitive Senate races, including Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin whether they support the overtime measure. In each state, at least 76% of voters said they support the rule, which raises the salary threshold for the so-called “white-collar exemption” to guarantee that employees who are paid less than $47,476 a year will be entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, support for the rule was as high as 81%. A majority of respondents in all seven states, and by a more than two-to-one margin in all seven states, said that they were less likely to vote for Republican lawmakers who are attempting to block the new overtime rule, including 57% of voters in Pennsylvania and 55% of voters in Arizona.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which guarantees time-and-a-half pay for work exceeding 40 hours a week, exempts certain employees with high-level duties and salaries from overtime pay.  But the Department of Labor, which is responsible for updating the exemption rules, had over a nearly 40-year period consistently failed to adequately update the thresholds. As a result, the current threshold falls below the poverty line for a family of four. Nearly two million workers across the seven states would gain eligibility for overtime under the new rule if it goes into effect on Dec. 1, 2016.

READ THE POLLS.

On Donald Trump Calling for a $10 Federal Minimum Wage

Statement of Christine Owens, Executive Director, NELP Action Fund:

For today at least, Donald Trump, bowing to the overwhelming support for raising the federal minimum wage, has called for raising the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour. With New York, California and D.C. already moving toward a $15 minimum wage and many others already on their way to well over $10, however, this proposal is woefully inadequate, not just in terms of the amount but also in terms of Mr. Trump’s grasp of the moment we are in.

The Fight for $15 has galvanized low-wage workers across the country to fight for the kinds of wages that provide them a real chance at economic stability, not just what politicians deign to award them. Mr. Trump may see himself as champion of workers struggling to get by, but calling for a $10 federal minimum wage when workers across the country are striking and fighting for $15 is exactly the sort of noblesse oblige that we as a country need to leave behind if we really want to build an economy that works for everyone.

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