Unemployed Floridians still won’t need to search for work to claim unemployment benefits, but they will need to return to the state’s unemployment portal every two weeks to claim those benefits.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has instructed the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to extend its work search waiver through May 30 amid the recovery from COVID-19. The department let lapse a separate waiver that spared the unemployed from reconfirming every two weeks that they are still without a job.
“Pursuant to federal law, claimants will be required to return to the CONNECT system every two weeks to request their benefits or ‘claim their weeks,'” according to DEO’s Reemployment Assistance application page.
Since announcing Phase One of the state’s path out of the COVID-19 lockdown, DeSantis had extended several executive orders designed to help Floridians cope with the economic and health effects of the pandemic.
But until the Friday announcement that DEO was extending the work search waiver, he had not publicly made a decision on either of the related rule suspensions. Instead, when asked by reporters, he said a decision was still in the works.
Democrats had expressed frustration this week that the Governor hadn’t given an indication of whether the waivers would continue. In South Florida, where Broward and Miami-Dade counties will remain under a stay-at-home orders, extending the work search requirement waiver was particularly important, said Miami Sen. José Javier Rodríguez.
Both waivers played twofold roles. They alleviated the stress on Floridians without a job and without a means to get a job as nonessential businesses remained shuttered and kept the stress off CONNECT, which was struggling to process a record number of unemployment claims.
The unemployment website debacle forced the state to spend more than $100 million to fix a system launched in 2013 under a $77 million contract. Floridians spent weeks trying to submit their claims as the portal crashed, and DeSantis all but removed DEO’s head from his post at the department.
In Jacksonville Friday, the Governor stressed that payments are now going out, with 1.1 million paid and 150,000 checks sent. In the week ending last Saturday, Florida saw 173,191 new unemployment claims, according to the latest weekly report from the U.S. Department of Labor.
That’s still way above the typical week’s worth of claims Florida had before the start of the coronavirus economic crisis in mid-March. But it’s also a dramatic fall from the numbers of newly-unemployed Floridians who showed up in the Department of Labor’s previous two weekly reports, 433,103 (adjusted slightly from initial reports) for the week ending April 25, and 506,670 for the week ending April 17.