Florida’s new & improved jobless rate leads to scaled-back benefits

Unemployed Floridians Face Scaled-Back Benefits — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Image by: Blueee77

TALLAHASSEE, Fl. — Floridians laid off in the upcoming new year will get seven fewer weeks of unemployment benefits because of the state’s improved jobless rate for 2021. 

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced that a formula used to determine the maximum number of benefits will be reduced from 19 weeks to 12 weeks.

Florida law puts the number of weeks at 12 when unemployment has reached or falls below five percent, with an additional week added for each 0.5 percentage point above 5 percent in the third quarter of a calendar year. The number of weeks increased during 2021 because of the surge in jobless claims after the coronavirus pandemic hit the state of Florida. The third-quarter 2020 unemployment rate was 8.6 percent. 

But with those returning to work after the economy built itself up again in 2021, the formula will push down the maximum number of weeks beginning in January of 2022.

“Based on the average 2021 third quarter statewide unemployment rate of 5 percent, beginning January 1, 2022, any new state Reemployment Assistance claim filed is eligible for up to 12 weeks of benefits,” the agency said, using the state’s term for unemployment assistance.

The formula does not affect the maximum weekly payment of $275 that the state provides, among the lowest amounts in the nation. 

Florida’s jobless rate stood at a solid 5.1 percent in July, 5.0 percent in August, and 4.8 percent in September. Since then, the rate has decreased to 4.5 percent, reflecting 483,000 out-of-work Floridians in November from a labor force of 10.63 million.

The beginning of the pandemic is marked as of March 15, 2020, by state and federal labor agencies because that is when major job losses started. Since then, the Sunshine State has paid $31.88 billion to $2.44 million unemployment claimants, with over three-fourths of the money coming from the federal government. 

Of the total, just over $12 billion in benefits have been provided in 2021, in part because Florida began efforts in May to motivate those individuals back into the workforce. The state withdrew Florida early from two federal assistance programs and reinstated a “work search” requirement for those people seeking unemployment benefits.

In April, efforts to raise maximum unemployment payments by $100 a week and to increase the number of weeks that benefits are offered were rejected by House Republicans. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers approved a broad plan that included upgrading the state of Florida’s online unemployment system, which crashed in the spring of 2020 after becoming overwhelmed with claims. The plan includes transferring the troubled CONNECT system to a cloud-based service. 

A measure intended to divert about $1 billion a year to replenish an unemployment compensation trust fund was signed. The fund is normally filled through a tax on businesses. The money is being collected through a requirement that out-of-state online retailers collect sales taxes on purchases made by Florida residents.

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