Government assistance for unemployed workers is available in each of the fifty US states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. This type of government aid is most commonly referred to as “unemployment compensation,” however, the official name adopted by the state of Florida is “reemployment assistance.” In the state of Florida, the Reemployment Assistance program is administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (“DEO”), which defines “reemployment assistance” as “a benefit for Floridians who have lost their job through no fault of their own, are able and available for work, and actively seeking employment.”
Navigating the complex process of applying for reemployment assistance in the wake of an unexpected layoff is never a simple task. That difficult process is made even more complicated during a crisis that creates mass unemployment, such as the one which we are currently experiencing as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This guide is designed to answer some of the most commonly asked questions with regard to the Florida Reemployment Assistance program and to discuss changes in this area of law that have been made in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Under DEO guidelines, in order to receive reemployment assistance, the applicant must satisfy the following requirements:
- Demonstrate total or partial unemployment a. Reduction in hours below full-time statusb. Totally terminated from position; or
- Worker Status a. The applicant must be authorized to work in the US.b. The applicant must have completed work registration.
- Demonstrate sufficient earnings in “base period.” The base period is defined as the five most recent quarters. The earnings in these five quarters must be greater or equal to $3,400.00 in gross earnings.
Disqualification: Applicant’s that meet the above criteria will ultimately be denied if the employer demonstrates that the applicant was either terminated for misconduct or if the applicant voluntarily resigned from their position without good cause. Under the DEO guidelines, the term “misconduct” encompasses a broad range of action or inaction taken by the employee, such as:
- conscious disregard of the employer’s interests;
- carelessness or negligence that exhibits intentional disregard of duties;
- chronic absenteeism or tardiness; or
- violation of the employer’s rules and regulations.
The Application Process:
- Applicants for reemployment benefits initiate the process by completing an online application on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s online application portal at https://connect.myflorida.com/.
- Once the application is reviewed, processed, and accepted, notice is sent by the DEO to the applicant’s employer and a request is made on the employer for additional information regarding the applicant’s termination or reduction in hours.
- Based on the information provided in the application and the employer’s response, an initial determination is made by the DEO.a. If the application is denied, the applicant may file an appeal within 20 days of the denial and a telephonic hearing will be scheduled to review the matter.
If the applicant’s claim is approved, the DEO will begin to send the applicant reemployment assistance payments by direct deposit or department-issued debit cards on a bi-weekly basis for a maximum of 12 weeks. The amount of assistance payments is calculated using the applicant’s earnings from the highest-grossing quarter in the applicant’s base period, however, the amount of assistance may not exceed $275.00 per week, or $3,300.00 in the maximum 12-week period.
In order to maintain reemployment assistance, the applicant must renew their request every two weeks and certify to the department that they have diligently searched for employment within that period.
Impact of COVID-19
While the process for applying for reemployment assistance as described above may seem straight-forward and simple, the reality is that even under the most ideal circumstances, it is not uncommon to experience some sort of unexpected administrative delay or opposition from your employer. When a crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is added to the equation, both of these obstacles to obtaining relief are amplified. A program that is not equipped to handle a sudden influx in applications is overloaded and employers who are trying to downsize and economize are quicker to justify and defend an employee’s termination in order to avoid financial responsibility.
Many changes have been made by the state of Florida and the DEO in order to address the systematic shortcomings that have become apparent during the crisis.
Procedural Changes made to the Reemployment Assistance Program:
- The CONNECT web portal used to initiate applications for reemployment assistance has been updated and improved.
- A mobile application is being developed that will allow unemployed workers to apply for assistance using their smartphones.
- Paper applications are now being offered for those with limited access to technology and can be printed and mailed to DEO free of charge at CareerSource or any FedEx location.
Substantive Changes made to the Reemployment Assistance Program:
- The requirement for applicants to demonstrate that they are “actively seeking work” has been suspended for claims made between March 15, 2020 and May 2, 2020.
- The requirement for applicants to register for work as a condition of maintaining their reemployment assistance benefits has been suspended through May 2, 2020.
- Work search reporting has been suspended through May 2, 2020.
The “waiting week,” between the time that an applicant is approved for assistance and the time that the applicant receives their first payment has been suspended. Payments are being expedited and are now available within the first week of unemployment.
CARES Act Federal Supplement to Florida Reemployment Assistance:
Under the CARES Act, state benefits for unemployed workers have been supplemented under three key provisions:
- Sec. 2104: The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Act (“PUC”) – provides extra $600.00 per week in addition to the state maximum benefit that an applicant is awarded. This supplement is not chargeable to the employers account.a. This supplement is available for claims that are made as a result of loss of employment between March 29, 2020 and July 31, 2020.
- Sec. 2107: Applicants are granted 13 weeks of benefits in addition to their state’s maximum benefit period.
- Sec. 2104: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) – expands and extends coverage to “gig” workers and self-employed workers that have suffered a loss in employment due to COVID-19.a. Created to help those that may not normally be covered by their state’s unemployment programs.
While the system may not be perfect, the aim of both the state and federal governments is to extend help to those who have been affected by this pandemic as efficiently as possible. Even if you are unsure if you qualify due to your particular circumstances, the DEO suggests that anyone who believes that they may qualify, apply.