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Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs bill decreasing unemployment benefits

Starting in January, the maximum number of weeks someone can receive state unemployment benefits in Florida will fall from 26 weeks to 23. If the state’s unemployment rate continues to fall, benefits could be shortened to as little as 12 weeks, under a bill signed yesterday by Gov. Rick Scott. #

Under House Bill 7005, which is now law, unemployment benefits will last 12 weeks if Florida’s unemployment rate* is 5 percent. For each additional 0.5 percent in the unemployment rate, up to 10.5 percent, benefits will last another week, up to 23 weeks. The unemployment rate is currently 10.6 percent. #

The changes also come with a reduction in unemployment insurance payments for employers, which according to the Agency for Workforce Innovation will save them about $33 per employee. #

The bill also requires people receiving compensation to post regular updates about their job search, and expands the definition of employee misconduct, which can be used a basis for denying benefits to former employees, to include behavior outside the workplace. #

*The bill actually calculates the “Florida average unemployment rate,” which is calculated once a year and is equal to “the average of the 3 months for the most recent third calendar year quarter of the seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rates as published by the Agency for Workforce Innovation.” #

The Agency for Workforce Innovation, which will soon be part of the new Department of Economic Opportunity, just sent out a press release touting the measure: #

TALLAHASSEE – Governor Rick Scott today signed HB 7005 into law, implementing several reforms to the Unemployment Compensation (UC) program that will save the state money, reduce taxes on employers and help get Floridians back to work. #

“This new law will enhance the Unemployment Compensation program’s efficiency for claimants, businesses and the state,” said Agency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia R. Lorenzo. “Reform measures included in this legislation are projected to save our state more than $100 million annually, easing the tax burden on employers to help them expand and create jobs.” #

Reforms include: #

Misconduct – Under the new law, misconduct is defined as any action that demonstrates conscious disregard of an employer’s interests and is found to be a deliberate disregard or violation of reasonable standards of behavior, and may include activities that did not occur at the workplace or during working hours. #

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***Benefit Payments – Claimants receiving benefits by paper check as of July 1, 2011 may continue to do so until the end of their claims. Claimants whose claims were filed after July 1, 2011 must select payments via Florida Unemployment Compensation Debit Card or direct deposit to their bank account. *** #

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Online Filing and Certification of Weeks – Initial and continued claims must be filed electronically. The change will improve government efficiency and provide a projected $4.7 million savings annually in administrative costs. #

Work Search – Claimants are required on a weekly basis to contact five potential employers and provide this information via the Internet during their bi-weekly certification for benefits. A quick, efficient way to contact employers is by using the Employ Florida Marketplace at employflorida.com, the state’s online job matching system where you can search thousands of job postings and apply for jobs. #

If a claimant is not able to make at least five employer contacts in a week, meeting with a representative at a local One-Stop Career Center for reemployment services may satisfy this requirement for that week. #

Skills Assessment – In order to receive benefits, claimants filing new claims must complete an initial online skills assessment. The results of the assessment will be used by your local One-Stop Career Center to assist in your job search efforts.* *** #

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Severance Pay – If a claimant’s severance pay per week is equal to or greater than the claimant’s weekly benefit amount, the claimant is not entitled to benefits for that week. Severance pay does not impact the total amount of benefits that can be paid on the claim. #

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***Tax Relief – *A reduction in employer taxes is projected to save Florida employers approximately $33 per employee. #

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***Duration of Benefits – *The maximum duration of benefits adjusts from the current 26 weeks to a range of 12 to 23 weeks. The bill indexes maximum weeks of benefits to the state’s unemployment rate, which will be determined once a year. #

This change is projected to save the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund an estimated $103 million annually. #

For more information on the upcoming reforms, please visit the Agency for Workforce Innovation’s website or its UC Hot Topics page. #

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