ORLANDO, Fla. – Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have not only had growing concerns about their health but also their financial situation, as the nationwide closures prompted by the outbreak have put millions of people out of work.
Nearly 170,000 first-time unemployment claims were filed last week in Florida, with 6.6 million claims filed nationwide. Over the past three weeks, more than 472,000 claims have been filed in Florida, compared to the less than 6,000 claims filed in the Sunshine State just one month ago.
For many Floridians, the filing process hasn’t been easy: The Florida Department of Employment Opportunities has had significant issues with accommodating the influx of unemployment applications in the past few weeks. The phone system and online system have had issues, prompting state officials to purchase new internet servers and hire more people to handle the incoming requests. In many cases, Floridians weren’t even been able to get through. The DEO also began to offer paper applications before also rolling out a mobile-friendly site that appeared to finally bring some relief to the overwhelmed system.
Aside from preparing for possible technical difficulties, Nilda Blanco, the director of business intelligence from CareerSource Central Florida, said there are a few things Floridians seeking reemployment assistance should know that can help ease the process.
1. Use the mobile-friendly site to file
As previously mentioned, it seems a number of Floridians are having more success with the DEO’s mobile-friendly site when trying to apply for unemployment benefits. Blanco recommends anyone needing to file their claim take the same route, as her company has tried it and seen better results than those who file using the old system.
“We have tested it continuously and it seems to be responding and working,” she said.
2. Have your documents ready before you file.
According to Blanco, having your paperwork in order before you file will make the process significantly easier.
If you’re filing, you should be prepared to provide the following information:
The following information is asked if you are submitting an application:
- Social Security number
- Driver’s License or State ID number
- Employment information for the last 18 months for each employer
- Employer ID (You can find this on your W2 or 1099 tax form)
- Employer Name, address, phone number
- First and last day of work
- Gross earnings for the last 18 months
- Reason for separation
- If you are not a U.S. Citizen you will be asked for a registration number or other work authorization form
- A military employee should copy their DD-214 Member 4 or a copy of Member 2-7
- A federal employee should use SF-8 or SF-50
- A Union member should list a Union name, hall number, and phone number.
3. File even if your hours have been reduced.
Blanco said benefits are not only available to those who are completely without work. She says you can and should apply even if your hours have been cut back.
“If your hours have been reduced, I still recommend that you apply," Blanco said. “There is provision under unemployment compensation that if your hours have been reduced and you do qualify, that you would get a portion of what the reduction is.”
For example, let’s say you were working a 40-hour week before the pandemic hit, and you’re now only working 20 hours a week.
According to Blanco, it is possible that you could at least get 50% of the benefits available.
Those who are self-employed may also be eligible for benefits.
Blanco also said if you’re not sure whether you qualify for benefits with your current employment situation, it can’t hurt to try.
“If you have reduced hours or you are self-employed, just go ahead and apply and that way at least your information can be reviewed and a determination can be made,” Blanco said.
DEO officials said only Floridians who do not have a reemployment assistance claim should file an application.
4. Don’t forget to enter banking information.
Blanco said it’s important to remember to enter payment information in order to get any benefits you qualify for in a timely manner. It may seem like a no-brainer to know your banking information, but she said some people forget to enter those details, delaying their claim.
“Don’t forget to put your banking information,” Blanco said. “Some folks finally get the application, get so excited they finally finished it and they don’t complete the payment piece, and that may delay the process of a claim."
5. Freshen up your résumé.
They don’t call it reemployment assistance for no reason. Blanco said Floridians should use the time they have without work to prepare for their next opportunity.
She recommends doing all you can to get ready for an active job search: Make sure your résumé is up to date, you have a strong online presence and well-built Linked In profile. You should, if possible, take advantage of virtual platforms to take your job search to the next level and promote your skill sets.
6. Learn some new skills.
Speaking of skill sets, there’s no time like the present to broaden yours, especially if you have more time you can dedicate to doing so while you’re searching for work.
Been thinking about taking up cooking, or maybe master the art of coding? Break out the books and learn as much as you can to make yourself more valuable to future employers.
Even parents who are busy helping their child with virtual learning while they’re home due to the COVID-19 outbreak can use the opportunity to learn something new -- together, according to Blanco.
“We are learning all the time now but as moms and dads are helping their students as they are unfortunately at home not working, here is an opportunity that they can learn beside their kids and continue to grow their skills and be ready to jump in the market when things open up again," Blanco said.
Those seeking reemployment assistance should also be on the lookout for free resources in the coming weeks from CareerSource Central Florida, including free webinars and online courses that will help make sure Floridians are ready to jump back into the workforce once it’s back up and running again.
News 6 also held a virtual town hall with Central Florida leaders regarding Florida’s financial fight. You can watch the town hall and get access to the resources referenced by panelists here.
Check back at ClickOrlando.com/MakeEndsMeet for the latest coronavirus financial news.