Florida Tells the Unemployed, If You Want Benefits, You Have to Go Online

by Ava L. Parker on November 21, 2011

In Florida, if you lose your job, you need to get online. The state’s new policy requires anyone seeking unemployment benefits to apply online.

This is a cost-saving move — Florida officials estimate it could save taxpayers $4.7 million a year. Going online means there are fewer state employees required to process applications.

Florida also requires online documentation of job searches (in Florida, the unemployed must perform at least five job inquiries a week to receive benefits).

Florida is considered a bellwether state, and often this proves true. So look for other states to adopt an online-only policy if Florida’s experiment proves workable.

Is it working? The policy is new — it took effect August 1 — but so far, so good – for those with broadband Internet access, anyway.

Diego Salinas, a Floridian who recently lost his job, has a laptop and broadband access, and he’s satisfied with how the system works. “I think it’s a legit thing,” Salinas told the Capitol News Service. “I think what the State of Florida is doing is good for everybody.”

Salinas said the online system makes it easy to provide proof of job searches. “It’s pretty fast because I do all my searches through email, so I just had to provide the email, date of contact and method so that’s pretty much it,” he said.

“Gas is expensive”

Salinas does all this from home, but not everyone has broadband access where they live.

A study by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency shows that broadband access at home is common for households with incomes of $100,000 a year or more, but not for those of modest incomes. Among families making $25,000 or less, only a third have broadband access.

So for those in Florida without broadband access, getting laid off brings two kinds of searches — for work and for Internet access.

For most, that means a trip to public libraries — where the computers are now tied up nonstop.

Tony Morel lost his job as a supermarket manager when his company, like many in Florida, trimmed its payroll in the shrinking economy. Morel says hunting down Internet access is a hassle and costs money. “Gas is expensive,” he told the Orlando Sentinel, and you have to get in your car and look for a computer.”

Access and competition for jobs

But he has no choice — it is online, or nothing, when it comes to unemployment benefits in his state of Florida. That is likely to become the case in other states, too. Florida’s new policy has “future” written all over it.

Morel’s experience — not having broadband costs time and gas money — is one of many reasons One Economy and the Broadband Opportunity Coalition are advocating for universal broadband access.

With broadband access to the Internet in their homes, the unemployed in Florida can get their unemployment assistance, can look for jobs, can get online training, can pursue education opportunities, and can engage in the invaluable practice of networking.

Without it, they drive to the library and wait in line — knowing that those who have broadband access are way ahead in the competition for jobs.

Is there a better argument for broadband access? I don’t think so.

  • Ava L. Parker of Jacksonville, Florida, is the president of Linking Solutions Inc., a business-development and community-outreach firm, and a partner in the law firm of Lawrence & Parker, PA., and the voice of The AvaView, a blog on digital action and consumer protection.

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  • JCraigDC

    This really brings home the importance of universal broadband access, particularly community broadband and free wi-fi in public spaces.  More than likely, if one is unemployed, disposable income for extra cable/phone services is limited.

  • Wowsers

    While more efficient… this means more work for those without computer access at home

  • TK

    I wholeheartedly agree! But it seems as if Governor Slick Rick Scott has no concept of “if people do not have jobs or have low-paying jobs, then they don’t have enough money for cable and broadband.” And if he does know, he really doesn’t care.

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