Unfortunately, if you’ve been laid off from your job, you’re going to have to file for unemployment. In our state, that involves applying online. Processing times have been incredibly delayed over the course of the last week or so, and it might take you several tries to successfully get through the online interface, so practice patience and keep plugging away, as your livelihood depends on it.

(EDIT: Ken Lawson, the Executive Director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, said on Thursday the state will soon offer paper applications for unemployment claims.)

Luckily, the Department of Economic Opportunity has suspended some of its requirements, such as providing work search contacts and completing the full work registration through Employ Florida through the week ending May 2. With the passage of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, unemployment checks are also supposed to start immediately instead of the usual two-week waiting period.

As for applying, the process is fairly simple as long as you have the important information. You’ll need your Social Security number, your former employer’s name, address, phone number and federal ID number, the date you started and ended work for that employer, your gross earnings during the time that you were employed and a reason for your separation from your job. An amicable employer will be able to provide most or all of that to you.

If you weren’t laid off, but furloughed or had hours cut dramatically, you probably won’t be eligible for state benefits, which are capped at $275 per week, but you’ll be eligible for up to $600 per week in unemployment thanks to the CARES Act, unless you are still making more than you would on unemployment.

How long can I collect unemployment? More good news for the unemployed here. Normally, unemployment benefits span 12 weeks in Florida but with the CARES Act, unemployment benefits are extended by 16 weeks. This means that you can collect on unemployment for four months at a rate of $600 per week plus the $275 state benefit.

The extra $600 per week benefit is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, meaning if you’re laid off as late as Sept. 1, you’d be able to get the full 16-week benefit with the additional $600 per week added to your regular state unemployment.

If the nation still isn’t back to normal by the time unemployment benefits expire, tax experts expect Congress to step in a different stimulus package, because they are confident the government will not allow the country to go bankrupt because of a virus.

Keep in mind, you have to actually be unemployed to collect unemployment benefits. To collect you must be laid off, furloughed or hours-reduced; theoretically you can’t walk into your job today, quit and collect unemployment. And if you get laid off, you likely won’t keep health insurance or other benefits your employer might give you.

So stay home and stay positive, Osceola!

Much of the information in this article comes from the easily-explained blog of the office of Howard L Markowitz PA CPA.