Florida restricting unemployment benefits, ‘jobs are plentiful now’

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is warning by the month’s end, there will be more restrictions for people to qualify for unemployment benefits.

After May 29, individuals will have to prove they’re actively applying for jobs by completing three to five weekly job searches, based on population of their county’s residency.

DEO executive director Dane Eagle told reporters: …We are monitoring and seeing what the other states are doing, and I won’t take it completely off the table, but as of today, we’re focused on this return to work initiative.”

Eagle said Florida’s new “Work Search Initiative” is meant to help people return to the workforce, as a growing number of business owners say they’re finding it harder to hire people.

“When the pandemic first hit the governor waived the work search requirements because there were no jobs available, it made no sense to go out searching for work when the economy was shut down because of COVID-19,” Eagle said. “However, jobs are plentiful now … we want to help and there’s no reason not to feel safe anymore.”

“Unemployment benefits are higher than current minimum wage, so people through no fault of their own, as the governor said, they’re availing themselves to the benefits made available to them. Why wouldn’t they stay home? But that is not sustainable in today’s market,” said Eagle.

If a person were to receive combined state and federal benefits of $575 per week for 12 weeks, they could earn upwards of $6,900 – or $14.37 per hour, well above Florida’s minimum wage rate of $8.56.

Unemployment Advocate Vanessa Brito, however, says many Floridians are not getting the maximum benefits, even as many struggle with the state’s problem-plagued system that’s holding benefit payments for weeks or months, in some cases.

Just the $300 per week federal benefits comes out to $15,600 per year, or $7.50 per hour, below Florida’s minimum wage rate.

Brito said of the claims she’s reviewed, the annual income from unemployment has ranged between $16,000 and $20,000.

Labor advocates, including Paul Cox, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 631, say employers’ real hiring struggle is due to low wages and few benefits being offered.

“It is pure supply and demand economics,” Cox said. “I don’t know a single Floridian who wants to collect unemployment. They want to get back to work and do things they enjoy.”

Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows more than 4.3 million Americans left the workforce since the start of the pandemic: they may have retired, or are unable to work while caring for a sick family member or for children.

People who have left the workforce typically can’t collect unemployment benefits.

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