Florida authorities are tightening eligibility requirements for people to collect unemployment benefits, in a bid to encourage people to take jobs as businesses in the Sunshine State struggle to hire badly needed workers.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), the state’s employment agency, on May 12 announced that as of June 1, unemployed Floridians will have to contact five employers a week to continue to be eligible for jobless benefits.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waived that requirement last year when the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus wreaked havoc on the economy and unemployment surged. DeSantis signed an executive order earlier this month that declared the emergency over and suspended all local pandemic-related restrictions.
Calling Florida “a beacon for economic freedom throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” DEO Secretary Dane Eagle said in a statement, “There is a job surplus across the state, and we stand ready to assist Floridians who are out of work as they return to the workforce.”
Eagle put it more bluntly at a press conference in Tallahassee on May 12, when he said, “For our economy to heal, it is time to get back to work.”
Florida’s unemployment rate now stands at 4.7 percent and continues to fall below the national average of 6.0 percent, while the state has gained more than 700,000 private-sector jobs since the beginning of the pandemic.
“If we have policies that are incentivizing people to stay home or driving up costs … we need to let the market take over,” Eagle said, echoing arguments made by business groups and Republican leaders in Washington that generous unemployment benefits introduced under pandemic relief legislation were creating a disincentive for people to take jobs.
Following a lackluster government report last week that showed a sharp slowdown in hiring despite sky-high job openings, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for an early end to the federal $300 weekly jobless benefit supplement that is over above what states provide.
“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley said in a statement on May 7. “One step policymakers should take now is ending the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit. Based on the Chamber’s analysis, the $300 benefit results in approximately one in four recipients taking home more in unemployment than they earned working.”
Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson said that there are now 402,200 open jobs in the state that are “looking for people.” At the same time, there are 475,000 Floridians looking for jobs, and over 460,000 people who have stopped looking for work, he said.
“Filling these jobs and getting Floridians back to work is essential to keeping Florida’s momentum going,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference in Tarpon Springs on May 12, DeSantis echoed the business community’s concerns about hiring difficulties.
“I think that looking for work is important, I think it’s something that needs to be done,” DeSantis said, according to Tampa Bay news outlet WTSP. “There is not a single part of Florida I go to where I don’t hear the exact same concern about, ‘we have openings, we need people to fill them.’”
Republican governors in a number of states—including Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Missouri—are responding to business hiring woes by ending the federal unemployment boost ahead of its scheduled termination date in September.