The tough overhaul of unemployment benefits is saving Florida millions.
In the first three months of the new law, 65% of claimants were denied unemployment benefits, a percentage rate three times higher than in the same period in 2010, according to data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The denials in those three months will save the state $10.85 million, the agency said.
Florida's tougher unemployment law requires those claiming benefits to report online each week five jobs they've applied for or to meet with a state jobs counselor. The law also aims to keep workers with job performance issues from claiming benefits.
Some unemployed Floridians and advocates for the unemployed say the rising number of denials proves it's too easy for the state to turn down claims with the new rules. Claims and job-search information must be submitted online; there's no telephone option.
"They discourage you from collecting," said Dominick DeLuccia, a West Palm Beach resident who recently lost his job as a driver and says he doesn't have the computer skills to file online. "It's very frustrating," he said.
Gov. Rick Scott said the law is meeting its goals. "The intention of the law is to help people get jobs by encouraging them to actively look for work," said Scott spokesman Lane Wright. "We would rather have them getting a paycheck than a benefit."
Nearly 140,000 Floridians, or 65% of those who filed claims, were denied unemployment benefits between Aug. 1, when the law took effect, and Oct. 31, according to the state.
During the same three months a year before, 62,023 people — or 21% of the 303,000 people filing initial claims — were denied, the agency said.
Failing to meet online job-search reporting requirements is the primary cause for the rise, said Robby Cunningham, an agency spokesman. Denials can include all benefits or just a certain week when requirements weren't met, he said.
Valory Greenfield, a lawyer for Florida Legal Services, said the system is "denying people who are otherwise eligible for benefits. She represents the Miami Workers Center, a workers rights group that has asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the state benefits system, alleging it is "inaccessible to persons with disabilities, limited literacy, or lack of English proficiency."
Another new state law, which took effect July 1, would require drug testing of welfare recipients, but a federal judge in Orlando temporarily blocked implementation of the legislation in October. Federal Judge Mary S. Scriven was acting on a lawsuit filed by an Orlando man who said his civil rights were violated by the law, which also had been pushed by Gov. Scott.