Jobless benefits being reduced; minimum wage rises


Published: Friday, December 28, 2012 at 5:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 28, 2012 at 5:58 p.m.

The new year will bring changes in unemployment benefits and, to a lesser extent, the state's minimum wage.

In January, Florida unemployment benefits will be reduced from 23 weeks to 19 weeks.

The federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits — basically extra benefits that kick in when the state limit is met — are slated to expire altogether on Jan. 2.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 1 Florida's minimum wage will increase by 12 cents to $7.79 per hour.

The number of weeks of benefits that a state can offer its unemployed is determined by the U.S. Department of Labor and based on guidelines set out in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

Florida's unemployment benefits were reduced from 26 weeks to 23 weeks this summer, when Florida's unemployment rate fell below 9 percent for three consecutive months.

As the state's unemployment picture improves, the number of benefit weeks continues to drop. The state unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in November — the lowest since November 2008.

As for the federal EUC benefits: They are on the chopping block as part of the "fiscal cliff" crisis. If a budget deal is struck those benefits may or may not be restored in some form.

In Alachua County, there were 887 people getting the EUC benefits as of Dec. 22, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Alachua County's unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in November, down from 7.7 percent in November 2011.

The most a person can receive in unemployment benefits is $275 per week, based partly on their previous salary.

James Miller, deputy chief communications officer for the state Department of Economic Opportunity, said that while unemployment benefits are being reduced, Floridians shouldn't overlook the resources of the regional workforce boards.

"We've done very specific, targeted outreach to the people in our community who will be affected (by the expiration of EUC benefits) to let them know the services we have available," said Kim Tesch-Vaught, executive director of FloridaWorks, the regional workforce board for Alachua and Bradford counties.

Tesch-Vaught noted that her agency is there to help. For example: Resume workshops will be held 1:30 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays in January; interviewing workshops will be 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays in January, except New Year's Day.

Bob Walther, president of Wal-Staf Personnel Services, an employment agency with offices in Ocala, Gainesville and Lake City, said despite the improving unemployment rates, the regional picture remains challenged.

"We still have (employer) clients calling us … to fill positions, but the growth of calls has slackened," Walther said. "Businesses are very, very fearful of the future and when you're fearful of the future, you don't hire."

When the new minimum wage kicks in, it will be 54 cents per hour above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. That federal standard hasn't increased since 2009.

In 2004, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that created a minimum wage for the state.

Florida law requires state officials to calculate the figure each year based on the percentage increase in the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers in the South Region.

Staff writer Christopher Curry contributed to this report.

Contact Fred Hiers at 867-4157.

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