Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Florida’s unemployment benefits: We answer your questions

How to apply. How much you will get. Where you can send your complaints.

UPDATE: This page was updated on May 8 with several answers, including how you apply, what to do if you’re ruled ineligible and whether you’ll lose out on benefits because you were unable to apply right away. We will keep updating this page with the latest answers, so bookmark this page and keep coming back.

The number of Floridians applying for unemployment benefits exploded last week. So did questions about how much money workers can get and how they can navigate the state’s balky system. Here are a few:

I’m unemployed. How much does Florida offer?

The state offers a maximum of $275 a week — based on your earnings — for up to 12 weeks. An additional week is added for every 0.5 percent increase in the state unemployment rate above 5 percent. The maximum is 23 weeks when the unemployment rate gets above 10.5 percent. One catch: The state normally makes the calculation on the number of weeks once a year, according to state statute, usually sometime in October or later.

What about the jobless benefits from the federal stimulus package?

You can get an extra $600 a week through July 31. The package also provides an additional 13 weeks in state benefits. It’s possible that another extended benefits program will kick in that adds more weeks, but that hasn’t happened yet.

What if I earned less than $600 a week before I lost my job?

It doesn’t matter. As long as you are eligible, you still get the $600. You are also eligible to receive the $600 even if you lost your job before the coronavirus outbreak and you remain unemployed.

Can I be denied state benefits based on getting the $600 a week?

No. The state might deny you for other reasons, but it can’t deny you because you’re eligible for the federal benefit.

Can contractors and the self-employed receive Florida’s unemployment benefits?

Contractors who received 1099 tax forms and self-employed workers are generally not entitled to state unemployment compensation in Florida. But the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, part of the federal stimulus package, opens up benefits to independent contractors, the self employed and other gig workers who wouldn’t generally benefit under Florida’s system. The federal program calls for those workers to get $600 a week. The state’s website says they can also get up to $275 a week from the state.

How do I apply for unemployment benefits?

Florida created a new website to apply for unemployment. If you haven’t yet filed a claim, the recommended method is by applying at fileaclaim.myflorida.com. Additional information can be found at www.FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19.

How do I apply for the federal benefits?

You use the state system. The state has now created a site for independent contractors, the self-employed and gig economy workers to apply through the state system. Go to fileaclaim.myflorida.com to apply.

If I receive severance from my employer, can I get state unemployment benefits at the same time?

That depends. If your weekly severance payment is more than the $275 maximum, the answer is no. If you receive less than $275 a week in severance, you can apply to have the state make up the difference. In other words, if you receive $175 a week in severance, you can apply to receive up to $100 a week in unemployment benefits.

What happens when the severance payments end?

You can start receiving state unemployment benefits once your severance stops, as long as you are still unemployed. You would be entitled to up to 12 weeks at a maximum of $275 a week, as long as you hadn’t already received any partial payments described in the previous question.

Laid-off workers shouldn’t wait for their severance to run out before applying for unemployment benefits, said Paul Scheck, a lawyer with Shutts & Bowen in Orlando. They should apply immediately upon becoming unemployed, even if that means the unemployment payments are delayed until their severance runs out.

Is there a lifetime cap on how many times I can get unemployment benefits?

No.

Can I get state benefits if I received benefits last year?

Chances are you can. Floridians are entitled to a maximum of 26 weeks of regular benefits in a what the state calls a benefit claim year — defined as four of the last five completed quarters prior to the quarter in which your unemployment claim is filed. If you haven’t received 26 weeks of benefits during that period of time, then you would be eligible for more state benefits.

Keep in mind that the 26-week limitation does not apply to eligibility for benefits from the federal stimulus package. So even if you exhausted your state benefits, you could still receive the $600 a week federal aid.

If I was fired for cause, can I still collect unemployment benefits?

You may be entitled to benefits, but it will depend on the facts of your particular claim, Scheck said. If it is found that “misconduct” led to your termination, you will not be eligible for unemployment compensation. Florida defines misconduct as: (1) conduct that disregards an employer’s interests and violates reasonable standards of behavior, including theft or property damage; (2) carelessness or negligence on such a scale that shows culpability or intentional disregard of your employer’s interests and your obligations; (3) repeated absenteeism or lateness that violates your employer’s policy or one or more unapproved absences after a written warning related to that absence; (4) subjecting an employer to sanctions or loss of licensure through violating a standard or regulation; or (5) violating an employer’s rules that are known and consistently and fairly enforced.

I’m encountering error messages and other problems when I try to apply online. What should I do?

You’re not alone. The vast majority of people have had trouble applying for unemployment at the website. The state says it’s gotten better. Keep trying. You can also call 1-800-204-2418 for help, but the phone lines have been busy as well.

What about applying on paper?

Because the website is having so many problems, the Department of Economic Opportunity created a paper application, which you can find here. You can print it and mail it to the department’s headquarters in Tallahassee — the address is in that link. However, the department is recommending new applicants apply online at fileaclaim.myflorida.com. The new site is faster and mobile-friendly, allowing people to file on their phone or tablet.

What if I can’t print a paper application?

More than 100 FedEx locations are offering to print and mail your application for free. Go here to find a store near you (scroll down to “find a FedEx location”).

If I filed a paper application, can I still apply online?

Yes, but you should use the new site if you do. The state told us that they are checking paper applications to see if somebody has already filed online, and vice versa, so there’s no harm there.

I applied online but I haven’t heard anything. What should I do?

Wait. The next step is that someone needs to review your application to see if you’re eligible to receive unemployment. Unfortunately, there is a massive backlog of claims to review. On April 6, the Department of Economic Opportunity said it had a backlog of more than 560,000 applications. They were trying to process 80,000 that week, meaning that the wait for a review could be weeks for many people.

New: My application was ruled “ineligible.” What should I do?

Reapply. The state says you’re probably eligible for federal benefits, but the state hasn’t been able to process those cases until recently, so you should reapply.

Will I miss out on benefits because of the delays getting into the system?

No. Although state laws and rules say the date you start receiving unemployment is the date you start receiving it, that rule has been waived because people have had so many problems applying.

Why is the unemployment website so bad?

Former Gov. Rick Scott spent $77 million overhauling the website in 2013, but the site has never worked properly since then. State auditors told Scott in 2015 and 2016 to fix it, but he didn’t. A third audit in 2019, a few months after Ron DeSantis became governor, flagged the same website errors and glitches, but it doesn’t appear that DeSantis fixed the site, either. DeSantis has since ordered an investigation into the 2013 contract.

Is there anything else I can do about it?

Sure. Gov. Ron DeSantis is responsible for the Department of Economic Opportunity and the website. You can write to him at GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com. You can also write to your state senator and your state representative, who can provide oversight of state agencies. All three of those people might be able to get the department to speed up your claim.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 and Tampa Bay, six days a week

ISOLATED ENTERTAINMENT: Lists of ideas to help entertain yourself and your kids at home

NEED TAKEOUT?: Here’s the Tampa Bay restaurants offering curbside pick-up or delivery

FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Reddit.

LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement