Job Seekers Facing Unemployment Benefit Cuts Encouraged To Act Now
Federal unemployment benefits will end for Florida residents later this month. The state hopes the move will motivate workers to fill employment gaps, but some activists say the benefits aren’t the problem — it’s low wages.
Florida recently joined a number of other states in cutting federal unemployment benefits early. The decision comes as businesses across the state report significant employment gaps.
Last week, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reinstated a “work search” rule that was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The suspension allowed people to bypass a requirement to apply for five jobs a week before receiving benefits.
On June 27, the $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement that started during the pandemic will also come to an end. It could have been continued up until September under federal guidelines, but Florida is among 23 other states that have cut the additional assistance early.
According to an announcement from the DEO, the strategy is “another key step to get more Floridians back to work” as the state experiences gaps in employment.
The state’s latest figures show that 487,000 Floridians were jobless in April. That number is down significantly from 1,365,000 in the same month the previous year, when the coronavirus pandemic began to intensify.
Despite that, employers are still struggling to fill positions.
“We have more job postings now in Hillsborough County than we've ever had pre-pandemic,” said John Flanagan, CEO of CareerSource Tampa Bay, who estimated that there are currently 94,000 jobs open there.
“Those jobs are going unfilled because there's not a lot of interest,” he added. “Why that is, I can't speculate. Everybody has their own reasons.”
Supporters of the decision to end benefits have claimed that jobless people do not want to return to work because of the money they have been receiving from the federal government.
But some state officials have pushed back against that assertion.
In a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis dated May 28, Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, wrote, “There are several factors that make some companies face obstacles to finding workers: competitive wages, fear of unsafe workplaces, lack of opportunities in selected fields and unavailability of child care, to name just a few.”
The situation has spurred a national call for increased wages.
Some Florida companies, like Universal Orlando, have already responded. The theme park plans on increasing its minimum wage to $15 an hour as base pay for new workers, a policy it will implement starting June 27, the day federal unemployment benefits end in the state.
Florida voters approved a state-wide $15 minimum wage last November. It will increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour on Sept. 30, 2021, and then increase it by $1 each year until Sept. 30, 2026, when it will be $15 per hour. Currently, the minimum wage is $8.56.
Representatives from CareerSource said they are aware of this call for increased pay, and can help match unemployed workers to jobs that fit their needs and experience.
“We are finding jobs for individuals that are looking for a high wage,” said Christina Sowers, operations manager of CareerSource Pasco Hernando. “And also, right after you file for reemployment assistance, and during the first 60 days, you can apply for ‘suitable work.’ That means that you can look for work that pays near what you were making and doesn't require you to do a change in occupation.”
As the federal benefits are set to end, Sowers expects more people to use the services offered by the group.
“Almost every time some news hits about the changes to reemployment assistance, we see a spike in calls, especially in the last couple of weeks,” Sowers said.
”I feel like we have enough time and advance notice to know that the additional federal benefits are going to be ending. We've been helping individuals look at jobs and look at the salary of the jobs that are being offered, and connect them to those employers.”
She encouraged anyone concerned about the decision to reach out to CareerSource for assistance sooner rather than later.
“We're still here, we've continued to be here. Registering to look for work is something we've always helped you to do, submitting your work searches or finding out how to find those five jobs per week is something we can help you do. And if we can't come to the five jobs per week, we'll certainly offer you that career services session.”