ORLANDO, Fla. — The end of May marks the first of two major changes impacting Florida unemployment benefits.

Florida’s Work Search Waiver will expire May 29, meaning after that point, Floridians will be required to prove they’re searching and applying for jobs in order to continue to remain eligible to receive benefits.

Later this summer, the state will also move to cut off extended unemployment benefits provided by Congress.

Unemployment key dates

  • May 29, 2021: Work Search Waiver expires
  • June 26, 2021: Waiting Week Waiver expires
  • June 26, 2021: FPUC $300 weekly benefits end
  • Sept. 4, 2021: Federal Unemployment Insurance Programs expire

Work search waiver expiration

The most immediate impact on eligibility for unemployment benefits is the expiration of the state’s Work Search Waiver and, for many, the requirement to register for job search assistance.

For years, law required individuals to actively pursue new work opportunities to remain eligible to receive benefits.

Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to extend the expiration of this waiver in an effort to ease the burden of returning to the workforce during the pandemic.

On May 12, Dane Eagle, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, announced the state would allow the waiver to lapse as business owners voiced frustration with hiring new employees. 

Many business owners say they’re struggling to hire new workers because people are "receiving more on unemployment than they would on the job," although economists say it's not that simple.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said the changing dynamics of the nation’s workforce is not to blame entirely on extended unemployment benefits, but rather a number of factors, including people moving to new cities, people "upskilling" into new and more stable career fields, and competition among industries that are offering higher wages, better benefits, and hiring incentives.

Weekly work search

When the Work Search Waiver expires, claimants must submit work searches for every week of state and/or federal benefits requested.

The number of searches required is based on where a person lives. Those who live in counties with a population greater than 75,000 will have to complete a minimum of five work searches per week. Those who live in counties with a population of less than 75,000 will have to complete a minimum of three work searches per week.

In lieu of the work searches, claimants may also complete a CareerSource service appointment to satisfy that week’s requirement. 

Claimants request benefits biweekly, but are required to conduct work searches weekly.

“All claimants are required to complete the Work Search requirements,” DEO said in a statement. “This includes individuals who are furloughed, disabled, pregnant, self-employed, etc.”

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, a claimant has to be “able” to work, carving out disqualifiers for certain situations including those who may be pregnant, ill, or unable to find child care.

There are only a few exceptions to the work search requirements, but those exceptions include:

  • Union members who are in good standing and in regular contact with your union.
  • Individuals who are furloughed or temporarily laid off, but will return to the same employer within 8 weeks of your last day of work.
  • Individuals participating in approved job training programs through local CareerSource Florida center.
  • Individuals serving jury duty.

What is considered a valid work search?

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said people are required to give good faith in their search for new work, although they are not bound to strictly apply for jobs that they think they’re qualified for.

However, the longer a person is out of work, the more pressure they’ll face in accepting a new job.

“During the first 60 days a claimant collects Reemployment Assistance benefits, work will not be considered suitable if: (1) it pays less than 90% of the claimants average weekly wage during the base period; or (2) it would require a material change in occupation for the claimant,” a spokesperson for Florida DEO told Spectrum News.

Those standards, however, change over time.

“As the length of unemployment increases, offered work that may not have been suitable within the first few weeks of the claim may be considered suitable as prospects for desired work diminish,” DEO said. “After an individual has received 25 weeks or more of Reemployment Assistance benefits in a single year, suitable work is a job that pays the minimum wage and is 120% or more of the weekly benefit amount the individual is drawing. The Department will take into consideration any circumstances that compromise a claimant’s health and safety.”

For context, 25 weeks since the start of June would be early December, so those standards will apply to those who have been collecting unemployment since December 2020. For those people, most are earning benefits that calculate below minimum wage, so any minimum wage job offer would likely be considered a viable offer by DEO.

Turning down a job offer could put a claimant at risk of losing benefits.

“Individuals not returning to work when work is available or do not show good cause in refusing an offer of work could potentially be disqualified from receiving Reemployment Assistance Benefits,” Florida DEO said in a statement. “This also applies to the federal benefit programs authorized under the CARES Act and Continued Assistance Act.”

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is making it easier for employers to report to the state people who have turned down job offers.

It posted FAQs, outlining answers to a series of questions including:

  • What is considered a valid Work Search?
  • When is a job refusal acceptable?
  • Who needs to register with Employ Florida? 

Work registration

Anyone filing a new unemployment claim after May 29, 2021 will be required to register with DEO’s Employ Florida division. Registration is open to all claimants. 

Employ Florida and CareerSource provide job seekers with free jobs services such as job search assistance, resume proofing, and grants and financial assistance for job skill training programs.

Waiting week waiver expiration

Under normal circumstances, a person would have to wait one week after applying for unemployment benefits before becoming eligible to receive them. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order during the pandemic waiving this rule in an effort to speed up benefit distribution.

That waiver ends June 29, 2021.

End of federal extended unemployment benefits

Florida became the 23rd state in the nation to move to shut off extended federal unemployment benefits

With passage of the American Rescue Plan in early 2021, Congress approved providing $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefits through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Fund. This $300 weekly benefit is above any other state and or federal benefits a person receives, and was supposed to be offered in Florida until early September when other federal programs expire. 

Business owners and lobbyists across the U.S. argue they’re struggling to hire workers, so in response, Republican-led states are rolling out preemptive cutoffs to the added incentives. Some governors have touted offering incentives for those who return to the workforce, but DeSantis said in late May he's not in favor of that idea.

The extended benefits will end June 26, 2021 in Florida.

“Transitioning away from this (FPUC) benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce,” Dane Eagle, Executive Director of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said in a news release issued May 24.

The move came after the state announced private-sector employment increased by 18,800 jobs in April, with more than 460,000 jobs postings online.

Jobless Floridians argue that the benefits are critical in helping them make ends meet as they try to reenter the workforce.

The extended benefits have also created debate over increasing wages.

Florida’s current non-tipped minimum wage is $8.56 per hour, above the federal minimum wage. Florida voters several years ago voted to increase the state’s minimum wage. More than 60% of voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 to push Florida’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by the year 2026.

Florida’s current minimum wage is $8.56 an hour, but will increase to $10 an hour by September 30, 2021, and then continue to go up $1 per hour each year until 2026. The federal minimum wage is still $7.25 per hour.

To compare (using 40 hours per week, pre tax math below):

  • Florida's Current Minimum Wage: $8.56 / hour
  • FL Minimum Wage Annual Salary: $17,804
  • Federal Current Minimum Wage: $7.25 / hour
  • Federal Minimum Wage Annual Salary: $15,080
  • Annual salary at $15 an hour: $31,200

Wages have long been a focal point, at least in Central Florida, where the economy is anchored by many low-wage tourism jobs.

Low wages and a lack of affordable housing has put many families in prolong positions of financial stress.

End of all federal unemployment programs

While Florida will cut off extended benefits, funding and operations will continue for three remaining federal unemployment program. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation are scheduled to expire September 4, 2021.

Congress created the federal programs to supplement state benefits through the pandemic.

Florida has among the lowest state unemployment benefits in the nation, offering in regular years up to $275 per week for up to 12 weeks. Due to the 2020 unemployment rate, state law provisions temporarily offer up to 19 week’s worth of benefits to new claimants.

Beyond the changes

Beyond the major changes, there remain extensive issues with Florida’s unemployment processing system itself.

Gov. Ron DeSantis will have to decide whether to keep the legislature’s allotment of millions of dollars to be used for upgrading the faulty system.

Claimants continue to express frustration over extended wait times, locked claims, fraud, and payments that are missing for months. 

DEO is relying on a third-party company, IDme, to help verify identities and unlock claims, even as some tell Spectrum News their claims become “locked” repeatedly after verifying their information. 

“DEO provided an identity theft toolkit which details what Floridians should do if they are a victim of identity theft and steps they should take to mitigate fraudulent activity on their account,” DEO said. 

Another major issue as tax filing deadlines have passed, is that many claimants say they have also not gotten their 1099-G tax forms. DEO said people who have received incorrect 1099-G tax forms or are still looking for their form can fill out an inquiry at 1099GRequest.MyFlorida.com.

Have claim troubles? Questions? Let us know with this survey.