TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - People in Florida’s unemployment system will have to show they looked for work on a weekly basis after Memorial Day, as the state pushes to get workers back on the job, particularly at restaurants.
Also, a process is being set up for business owners to report unemployment claimants who don’t follow the "work search" rule, which will require people to apply for five jobs a week.
Dane Eagle, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said Wednesday the work-search requirement, which was lifted last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be reinstated June 1 for new unemployment applicants. Gov. Ron DeSantis also said last week the work-search requirement would return.
"You've seen restaurants that have had to close earlier or open later or close certain days of the week," Eagle said during a news conference outside downtown Tallahassee’s Metro Deli. "All over the Panhandle I've seen signs that say, ‘Welcome to the new pandemic.’ The 2021 pandemic is unemployment, not being able to hire. So, we've got to put an end to that."
Florida’s unemployment rate stood at 4.7 percent in March, representing 475,000 people out of work from a workforce of 10.17 million.
Eagle said many people are taking advantage of $275 a week in Florida benefits and $300 in federal assistance, which, when combined, are competitive with weekly pay at many restaurants and leisure-industry businesses.
Rob Bazemore, owner of Metro Deli, said he’s been lucky that most of his staff of about 12 people has kept working through the pandemic, but as the economy picks up it has been hard bringing new hires on board.
"We are going to have a really hard time competing, until that extra $300 goes away," Bazemore said. "Once it gets back down to $275, now we can work with that. We can beat that, but if you are going to make us beat 600 bucks a week, it’s going to be not easy for us."
Eddie Agramonte, owner of Gordo’s Cuban Cuisine in Tallahassee, said the need for workers is also hitting his suppliers, which he said causes delivery delays and increased prices.
"I don’t understand why people don’t have that urge anymore to want to continue to rise, instead of just staying home and make 300 extra bucks a week," Agramonte said. "At $300, why not make $400, or why not make $500? They have to have that ethic in themselves to want to come out and do the work."
DeSantis waived the work-search requirement in an executive order as the state’s unemployment rate shot up to 13.8 percent in April 2020, when the pandemic forced businesses to shut down or dramatically scale back.
"We suspended that last year at this time because, quite frankly, there weren’t jobs," DeSantis said last week.
When the order expires May 29, Eagle said business owners will be able to report if someone is not abiding by the work-search requirement.
"So, if you're applying for a job and not showing up for an interview, or refusing suitable work, that is going to be reported to us, and you will no longer be able to collect," Eagle said.
The Florida Senate approved a bill (SB 1906) last month that would have increased maximum weekly payments from $275 to $375, added more weeks in which benefits would be available and changed the work-search requirement. The proposal called for the number of job searches to drop to three a week for most people and to two a week for people living in counties with fewer than 75,000 residents.
But DeSantis voiced opposition to the increase in weekly payments, and the House did not take up the Senate bill.
A concern of House Republicans was that increased benefits could lead to businesses being required to pay more money into the state’s unemployment compensation trust fund. Similar reasoning was used when benefits were cut in 2011 to blunt a major increase in unemployment taxes on businesses.