Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Unemployed? Florida lawmakers want you to work for free

Picture this scenario:

Your longtime job of 10 years laid you off. You were making an honest $40,000. Suddenly, you’re thrown into the same lot as thousands of other Floridians — unemployed with no job prospects. Hesitant, you apply for unemployment benefits. A few weeks later, you receive a check for $275. You look for work, online and off, unsuccessfully. After two months, belts tighten more. Your meager savings is almost depleted. The bills are piling up. You stop driving around filling out random applications, trying to save the gas for actual interviews or referrals.

Then, one morning while drinking day-old coffee, you read in the local newspaper that the Florida Legislature has mandated that you find an organization and work for them. For free. No money for gas or child care.

Call it volunteering.

That’s the latest unemployment-related bill — that does nothing to fix unemployment, by the way — from state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican.  She’s the sponsor of HB 509, which is currently in the Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee.

Continue reading

10 lessons I learned from unemployment

Department Of Labor Hosts Job Fair For Veterans At U.S.S. Intrepid

So my long lapse of unemployment has ended. No, I’m not writing news again — just product descriptions for a few well-known online retailers. Not the ideal job, but in this economy, I’d be lucky to have a job at Taco Bell.

So, how do I feel? One part relieved, two parts depressed and another half-part anxious. The latter comes from a feeling I’ll always have after my first lay-off: This could happen again. In fact, my current employer already seems a little shaky; they laid off 8 people just last week.

Anyway, I’ve been working for a few weeks now and I’ve had some time to reflect on my year of unemployment. What have I learned?

Continue reading

The story behind the Christmas Card

Every year, I send out a Christmas card. But I try and send something a little less like the traditional, boring here’s-my-baby/dog/family-for-your-enjoyment. Last year, I sent out a picture greeting card featuring an ex-marine waterboarding me. A few years before that, I sent out a photo and story about my night inside an inflatable newspaper costume. The year before that, well, let’s just say I have a lifetime ban from that coffeeshop. So, in keeping with my Gonzo tradition, here is the story behind the Christmas card:

So there I was – standing in front of a dozen Pennsylvania police officers in full riot gear, clubs and tear gas ready, with only a press pass to protect me. And even if that press pass was real, reporter credentials didn’t mean anything on the fortified streets of Pittsburgh.

Just minutes earlier, another phalanx of riot cops charged a group of protesters and bystanders a few blocks over. And that was just minutes after police rolled out L-RAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) — a crowd-control device strapped to a military truck that emits a piercing, debilitating tone. This was the first time such a device had been used in the United States.

Yep, the G20 Conference was underway and for the last six weeks, Pittsburgh city officials and the media had scared residents into allowing a small version of a police state right on the banks of the Allegheny River.

Continue reading

Florida’s extended (extended) unemployment benefits: The good, the bad, the ugly

First, the good news for my unemployed brothers and sisters:

Due to stagnant (and in some cases, rising) unemployment throughout the country, the Obama Administration approved another round of extended benefits for laid-off Americans earlier this month. Although there is confusion surrounding who will actually get these benefits, under the best case scenerio, unemployed Floridians will receive 20 more weeks of benefits to help you get through another four months of job searching.

Well, some of us will receive those benefits (about 250,000 according to the St. Petersburg Times). Which brings me to the bad news.

If you already exhausted your benefits before the bill was passed on Nov. 6, you probably aren’t eligible (although the state says you can apply).  Also, only those Floridians who will run out of all benefits between Nov. 6 and Dec. 27 qualify for the extra weeks.

There is a lot of confusion on who qualifies for the new extension and since the state unemployment office doesn’t make much sense explaining it, they’ve set up a webpage for you to check if you qualify (click on the button that says “Check your eligibility).

That fine print has some advocacy groups upset. The National Employment Law Center just released a study that found over a million American workers will be ineligible for benefits in January 2010. Federal workers have it worse; they estimate over three million of those workers will remain unemployed.

But things get uglier.

The state has already run out of the money to pay for benefits, partly due to the Florida Legislature’s inane idea to not accept federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance. So, as unemployment rises to record levels, there is another cloud on the horizon. Due to a clause in state law, businesses will be taxed extra for unemployment benefits next year. And by “extra,” I’m mean a tax hike approaching 120 percent, which I’m sure can’t be good for companies barely keeping afloat.

Talk about a vicious circle.

Florida unemployment news: The good, the bad and the ugly

First, the good news: Florida’s unemployment rate has not risen for the second month in a row. Now the bad: The state’s unemployment rate hangs at nearly 11 percent, the worst it has been since 1975. The ugly news? Florida’s unemployment trust fund ran out of money this week.

Don’t worry — yet. The federal government is advancing money to the state government to help pay for benefits, but considering the mounting debt up in Washington — and state Republicans too proud to take any federal money — who knows how long that will last.

Out of Work Journalists: Ever thought of street performing?

IMG_6186I have a fascination with street performers. The more in a locale, the more I love the city. There is just something so Renaissance about musicians laying down the soundtrack to your town. So, obviously, I also love the musicians in the New York subway system.

Well, Simon Owens of Bloggasm sent me a link to one of his posts about a street musician in the New York subways. But what really piqued my interest was this particular performer is an unemployed journalist like myself.

From Owens’ blog:

McGookin took a severance package from his journalism job at Forbes.com about a year ago, and since then has proceeded to burn through his savings while looking for further employment. Like the thousands of other out-of-work journalists that are trying to find jobs in a shrinking industry, he hasn’t come up with any offers. So not long ago he decided that he wanted to try an experiment: for years he had been fascinated by the culture of performers that roam the underground of New York; he watched them play on his daily commute and sometimes even stopped to talk to them and give them money. What if he decided to join them?

The post is really good and offers a link to McGookin’s own blog that details his daily experiences underground in NYC. I highly recommend checking it out.

(BTW, That’s my photo from a recent trip to NYC)

Unemployment? Naw, FUNemployment

unemployedposter

Last week, I linked to an article about “funemployment” on my news reel to the left of this post (SIGNS of the times … unemployed panhandler … Get it!?!), but I wanted to blow it out a bit more in case you missed it.

From the L.A. Times:

Michael Van Gorkom was laid off by Yahoo in late April. He didn’t panic. He didn’t rush off to a therapist. Instead, the 33-year-old Santa Monica resident discovered that being jobless “kind of settled nicely.”

Week one: “I thought, ‘OK . . . I need to send out resumes, send some e-mails, need to do networking.”

Week two: “A little less.”

Every week since: “I’m going to go to the beach and enjoy some margaritas.”

What most people would call unemployment, Van Gorkom embraced as “funemployment.”

While millions of Americans struggle to find work as they face foreclosures and bankruptcy, others have found a silver lining in the economic meltdown. These happily jobless tend to be single and in their 20s and 30s. Some were laid off. Some quit voluntarily, lured by generous buyouts.

Buoyed by severance, savings, unemployment checks or their parents, the funemployed do not spend their days poring over job listings. They travel on the cheap for weeks. They head back to school or volunteer at the neighborhood soup kitchen. And at least till the bank account dries up, they’re content living for today.

“I feel like I’ve been given a gift of time and clarity,” said Aubrey Howell, 29, of Franklin, Tenn., who was laid off from her job as a tea shop manager in April. After sleeping in late and visiting family in Florida, she recently mused on Twitter: “Unemployment or funemployment?”

Never heard of funemployment? Here’s Urban Dictionary’s definition: “The condition of a person who takes advantage of being out of a job to have the time of their life. I spent all day Tuesday at the pool; funemployment rocks!”

The article goes on for several more graphs with the predictable “my parents don’t like it” quotes and outlines some of the crazy adventures of the laid-off, including embarking on a “spiritual quest” in Asia. Something tells me he’s not just living off of unemployment benefits.

But I’ve told many of my friends and family that, in some ways, my layoff is the best thing to have happened to me in years. As some of those interviewed in the L.A. Times article say, I feel healthier, happier and more like myself. And I’m using this chance to do more things for me, like learning how to ride a bike, updating my Internet skills and taking a few vacations. All on the cheap and while looking for jobs online, of course.

I especially think this is a cardinal rule for unemployed journalists: Use this time wisely. We’re undergoing tough changes to our industry. After years of working 50-60 hours a week for news, we need this “lay-cation” to recharge and prepare for what happens next. I think many of us will be better reporters because of it.

I’d love to hear from other unemployed folk on how they are spending their days off. Just leave a comment below …

(Big thanks to Saint Petersblog 2.0 for the link)

Did you really have to lay me off?

Do Florida employers really have to lay off so many workers during this recession?

Perhaps not, says Sheri McWhorter, president of the local company Workplace Legal Solutions and a certified member of the Florida Bar. In an article for the Bay Area Business Magazine, McWhorter cites a little known provision in Florida unemployment law that allows companies to reduce employee work hours while the state gives those employees pro-rated unemployment compensation to make up for the lost money.

It’s called Short Term Compensation and it might actually save some companies money in the long run.

Here’s a snippet:

Florida is one of 18 states in the country offering a Short Time Compensation (STC) program to assist employers in reducing payroll costs, while keeping their workforce intact.  Under the STC program, employers reduce employees’ work hours by between 10 and 40%, and employees receive prorated unemployment benefits to help replace earnings lost due to the reduced work schedule.  The goal of this voluntary employer program is to help businesses reduce payroll costs during the down economy by using unemployment benefits to offset the cost of full time wages, while allowing them to maintain their workforce rather than laying off full-time employees.  This way, when the economy improves, employers can increase the work hours of their existing employees rather than having to recruit and hire new employees, which may also help reduce future recruitment and training costs.

STC plans provide an alternative to layoffs by enabling businesses to apportion payroll reductions across a larger group of employees than they would have in the absence of an STC plan.  For example, rather than lay off 20% of its workforce, an employer might reduce the work hours of its entire workforce by 20% (i.e. move from a 5 day to a 4 day workweek).

Read the rest of the article here.


Unemployment benefits or food stamps?

That’s a choice the government has already made for some jobless folks.

From The Consumerist:

The economic recovery plan includes a nice little $25 a week bump for unemployed folks — but for some it comes with a catch — they no longer qualify for hundreds of dollars a month in food stamp benefits. Whoopsies!

It seems that when the government raised the unemployment benefits — they forgot to raise the income cap for food stamp eligibility — and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Florida throws a bone: Extended benefits to the unemployed

If you’re unemployed like me, you’ve probably heard about the extended benefits program for Florida’s jobless, mostly likely while waiting on the Agency for Workforce Innovation phone line. So, you are probably — like me — completely freakin’ confused about the whole thing. How do I apply? How many weeks do I get? Any extra requirements?

Here’s the short answers:

You apply either by mail (the state will send you application) or at the online site you normally claim your benefits from after you’ve exhausted the normal benefit limit. You get up to 20 weeks, provided you don’t find a job before then. There are no extra qualifications, but you may be asked to provide proof that you’ve been looking for work at least twice a week. If you have all those e-mails, letters and application copies saved on your computer, now is a good time to compile them.

I don’t have time to put all the details in Alex-speak, but I hope the following couple links help you out:

  • FAQ by the state. This has a little bit more info about your work requirements.