Floridians laid off in the new year will get seven fewer weeks of unemployment benefits because the state’s jobless rate improved in 2021.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity on Tuesday announced that a formula used to determine the maximum number of weeks of benefits will revert from a pandemic-boosted 19 weeks to 12 weeks.
State law puts the number of weeks at 12 when unemployment is at or below 5 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 was pushed up in 2021 because of the surge in jobless claims after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state. The third-quarter 2020 unemployment rate was 8.6 percent.
But with people returning to work as the economy recovered in 2021, the formula will push down the maximum number of weeks starting in January.
“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 Tuesday, using the state’s term for unemployment assistance.
The formula doesn’t affect the maximum of $275 in weekly payments the state provides, among the lowest amounts in the nation.
Florida’s jobless rate stood at 5.1 percent in July, 5.0 percent in August and 4.8 percent in September. Since then, the rate has fallen to 4.5 percent, reflecting 483,000 out-of-work Floridians in November from a labor force of 10.63 million.
The start of the pandemic is marked as March 15, 2020, by state and federal labor agencies because that is when massive job losses began. Since then, Florida has paid $31.88 billion to 2.44 million unemployment claimants, with more than 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 the state began efforts in May to push people back into the workforce. The state withdrew Florida early from two federal assistance programs and reinstated a “work search” requirement for people seeking unemployment benefits.
In April, House Republicans rejected efforts to raise maximum unemployment payments by $100 a week and to increase the number of weeks benefits are offered. The votes came days after Gov. Ron DeSantis opposed boosting benefits.
Meanwhile, lawmakers approved a wide-ranging plan that included upgrading the state’s online unemployment system, which largely crashed in spring 2020 after becoming inundated with claims. The plan includes moving the troubled CONNECT system to a cloud-based service.
DeSantis also signed a measure intended to divert about $1 billion a year to replenish an unemployment compensation trust fund that is ordinarily funded through a tax on businesses. The money is being raised through a requirement that out-of-state online retailers collect sales taxes on purchases made by Floridians.
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By Jim Turner