© Reuters
Florida is the stingiest state in the country when it comes to providing jobless benefits for the unemployed, two workers' rights groups argued in a complaint lodged with the U.S. Labor Department.

In a letter sent to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis this month, the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services asked for an investigation into changes to the unemployment compensation system made by Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott's administration.

The nonprofit, workers' rights groups said that revised procedures and bureaucratic hurdles implemented by the Scott administration made it more difficult for Floridians to access unemployment benefits. The changes appear aimed at discouraging people from filing for benefits, the groups said.

The complaint said only 15 percent of eligible unemployed Floridians are receiving jobless benefits. That compares to a national average of 27 percent.

"U.S. Labor Department records reveal that the percentage of jobless workers in Florida who actually receive state unemployment insurance is lower than anywhere else in the country," the groups said in a statement.

Under a law that took effect in August, job seekers who want to receive unemployment checks must apply online because the option of applying by telephone was eliminated.

Applicants must also provide documentation showing that they are actively looking for work and are required to complete a 45-question online exam that tests math, reading and research skills.

The exam, which supporters say is aimed at ensuring that jobless people have the right skills for the labor market, has to be finished before a worker's first unemployment check can be issued.

A governor's spokesman could not be reached for comment.

On Friday, Valory Greenfield, an attorney for the nonprofit Florida Legal Services, said the new requirements made it "virtually impossible" for many unemployed Floridians to qualify for jobless benefits.

"Unemployment compensation, the program as a whole, has been a political issue for the nation," Greenfield said. "Because of the poor economy and because so many people have gone on benefits, it's kind of gotten turned on its head.

"Now the demon, instead of the economy, is the unemployed working stiff. Suddenly that's who the bad guy is - the person who can't get a job."

Florida's unemployment rate dropped to 8.7 percent in April. That was higher than the national rate of 8.1 percent, but marked Florida's lowest jobless level in more than three years.