How to file for Florida unemployment benefits

Man drinking coffee in kitchen, thinking about filing for florida unemployment benefitsImage: Man drinking coffee in kitchen, thinking about filing for florida unemployment benefits

In a Nutshell

If you’re unemployed and living in Florida, here’s how you can file for Florida unemployment benefits.
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If you’re out of work in Florida, you may be looking for unemployment benefits to help you stay afloat financially. While Florida does have an unemployment insurance program, the benefits it offers aren’t as robust as those in some other states.

The Sunshine State’s maximum weekly benefit amount is typically just $275, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. Only two states offer less. And while most states offer benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks, Florida’s usual maximum is just nine to 12 weeks, depending on the state’s unemployment rate and how much you made before becoming unemployed.

Still, if you’ve lost your job, it’s important to know how to apply for Florida unemployment benefits. You’ll likely qualify for some form of support that you can use to pay your bills.

How do unemployment insurance benefits work in Florida?

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity oversees the state’s unemployment insurance program, which the state rebranded with the name “Reemployment Assistance.” The name is meant to communicate the state’s emphasis on getting unemployed people back to work.

Like most states, Florida funds its unemployment program through an employer tax — not by taxing employees. And in order to qualify for benefits in Florida, you’ll need to meet certain eligibility requirements.

How can I qualify for Florida unemployment benefits?

To qualify for unemployment, you’ll generally need to have been let go from your job through no fault of your own. In other words, if you quit, you probably won’t qualify unless you can demonstrate you had a good reason to quit. If you’re still employed but your hours are reduced so that you’re earning less than $275 per week, you can also file for unemployment.

You’ll also need to meet certain income requirements. These are calculated using a “base period,” which is just the past five calendar quarters (not counting the most recent quarter). For example, if you apply for Florida unemployment benefits in May 2020 (the second calendar quarter), your base period would be from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019.

Remember to use your gross earnings before taxes — you can usually find that information on a paystub. Here are the income requirements based on your base period.

  • You earned at least $3,400 total during the base period.
  • You earned income during at least two quarters during the base period.
  • Your total earnings during the base period must be at least 1.5 times your highest-earning quarter.

If your application is approved, you’ll need to meet a few other ongoing requirements as well. You’ll need to sign up for the state’s job agency, Employ Florida, and you’ll need to document at least five job contacts per week when you recertify your eligibility through the CONNECT portal every couple of weeks.

How much might I get?

To see how much you might get, you’ll need to go back to your quarterly earnings over your base period. Choose the quarter where you earned the highest income and divide that number by 26. This will be your weekly benefit amount.

The minimum weekly payment you can receive is $32, and the maximum amount is $275 per week. But you should note that states may choose to revise their benefits in times of economic crisis, and the federal government may help fund extended state benefits during such times.

Example calculation of Florida unemployment benefits

Here’s an example of how the calculation works under typical circumstances.

Let’s assume you’re applying for Florida unemployment benefits in May 2020, and you earned the following amounts during the last few quarters.

  • Q1 2019: $3,500
  • Q2 2019: $4,500
  • Q3 2019: $7,000
  • Q4 2019: $5,750
  • Q1 2020: $2,500

The base period ignores the most recent quarter, so you’ll disregard the income from the first quarter of 2020. Of the remaining quarters, the third quarter of 2019 was your highest-earning one. If you divide these earnings ($7,000) by 26, your weekly benefit amount works out to $269.23.

How can I apply?

Getting your application started is easy. The quickest way to start it is online through the CONNECT portal. If you’re not able to apply online, you can also call the agency at 1-800-681-8102.

You’ll need to provide some key details, including …

  • Your name, address and phone number
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your driver’s license number or state ID number
  • The name, address and phone number of each employer you worked for within the past 18 months
  • Your first and last day of work for each job you worked in the past 18 months
  • Your gross earnings (i.e., before taxes are taken out) from each job
  • The reason for losing your job
  • Your employer’s tax ID number, or FEIN, which can be found on the W-2 or 1099 form you received from the employer

You may also need to provide additional details in some cases. For example, if you’re a union member, you’ll need to provide your union name, hall number and phone number.

After you submit your application, keep an eye out. The department may email you or send out a letter requesting more details. The sooner you respond, the sooner your claim can be processed.

How will I receive my payments?

You won’t receive any money during the first week that you’re eligible for Reemployment Assistance. This is known as the waiting week, which runs from Sunday to Saturday. So if you apply on a Wednesday, for example, you’ll have to wait a week and a half for benefits to start — unless the state waives the waiting period.

Take note that these benefits aren’t paid out automatically. If your application is approved, you’ll need to log into CONNECT and manually request your benefits using the “Request Benefit Payment” option. This will take you through a brief survey to verify that you’re able to meet ongoing requirements. After that, you’ll need to log in again every two weeks to complete the survey and request a benefits payment.

You have only two options for how to receive your money. The first option is to have it directly deposited into your bank account. But the state doesn’t accept all banks, so if that’s not an option or if you’d rather opt for something else, your second option is to receive your payments on a prepaid Way2Go debit card. But be careful with this this option because there are fees for using the card, although the website doesn’t specify what these are. Make sure you read the fine print if, for example, you want to use your debit card to make an ATM withdrawal.

When do my benefits end?

Your benefits may end for multiple reasons. Keep in mind that these are rules that typically apply — states may change benefit maximums and restrictions during times of economic crisis.

  • You may get a new job. If you find work, your Reemployment Assistance benefits will end starting on the week you began your new position.
  • You reach your maximum number of benefit weeks for the year. If you don’t get a new job within 12 weeks, your benefits will end. It’s also important to note that this is your maximum for the entire year. For example, you could split it up and get six weeks of unemployment now and six weeks of unemployment later in the year if you lose your job again. But if you claim 12 weeks of Reemployment Assistance now, you won’t be eligible for the rest of the year. The state of Florida doesn’t have any provisions for extending your unemployment benefits beyond 12 weeks if you’re still out of work. Instead, its website directs you to dial 211 to get ahold of United Way for more help.
  • You reach your maximum benefit amount. The state limit for the maximum amount of unemployment insurance you can receive in a year is $3,300.
  •  You fail to meet requirements for continuing eligibility.

What if my claim is rejected?

If your claim is denied, you can file an appeal by fax, mail or on the CONNECT portal. You must file within 20 days of receiving the denial.

The appeals process works like this: An appeals referee will schedule a conference phone call with you and everyone else involved. You can have an attorney represent you and bring witnesses to testify during your appeal.

If you’re approved, then you’ll be eligible for Florida unemployment benefits. If not, then you have one last shot to appeal the second denial through the Reemployment Assistance Appeals Commission.

Next steps

Florida unemployment benefits might not provide you with the same amount of cash you were used to getting at your job. And the state’s unemployment benefits may not measure up to what’s provided in other states. But every dollar can be important when you need help to tide you over until you can find new employment.

It’s important to keep in mind that unemployment benefits are generally taxable income. But, you can ask the state of Florida to withhold taxes from your weekly benefit amounts.

About the author: Lindsay VanSomeren is a freelance writer living in Kirkland, Washington. She has been a professional dogsled racer, a wildlife researcher, and a participant in the National Spelling Bee. She writes for websites such a… Read more.