U.S. Rep.: Floridians need more federal unemployment checks 'to right some of these wrongs'

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Posted at 10:03 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 22:08:54-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- A Central Florida congressman is pushing to extend federal unemployment benefits until January.

I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern found Florida delayed distributing $600 federal unemployment checks that many are still waiting on.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) says extending federal unemployment checks until January under the Heroes Act -- rather that stopping those $600 weekly benefits at the end of July -- would help those who have suffered due to Florida’s broken unemployment system.

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“That will give us extra leeway to right some of these wrongs that have happened,” said Rep. Soto.

Rep. Soto told the I-Team the extension of federal unemployment is critical for Florida, “to make sure that we don’t run out of funds, make sure that people get the retroactive benefits that they’re entitled to, much of those - many of those retroactive benefits - are because the website was so delayed, because Florida was delayed in drawing down that funding.”

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The I-Team found Florida did not start sending most of the $600 federal unemployment checks until after Governor Ron DeSantis began lifting the state's safer-at-home orders.

Florida didn't start sending most $600 fed unemployment checks until stay-at-home order was lifted

Records the I-Team obtained from the U.S. Department of Labor show Florida made its first withdrawal from the federal fund on April 14, a week after the the funds were made available.

“It hurt people. It was a delay that caused many people to potentially be late or unable to make their bills in time,” said Rep. Soto.

When asked if he is satisfied with where the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) currently stands with getting people the checks they are owed, Rep. Soto responded. “No, of course not, I couldn’t be satisfied, nor could anybody reasonably looking at the situation. We have been the slowest in the nation.”

Rep. Soto brought up the $29 million the federal government gave Florida on April 1 as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was meant to cover administrative costs and help the state quickly set up its system to pay out those $600 weekly benefits.

“While it is encouraging to now see over 750,000 Floridians get their unemployment benefits, there’s still over half a million folks who were denied and we saw another 220,000 Floridians make their unemployment claims last week. We need to continue to improve this system,” said Rep. Soto. “We have a long way to go.”

The House passed the Heroes Act on Friday, to extend federal unemployment benefits. The Senate has expressed opposition and isn’t expected to vote on the bill until after the holiday weekend.

If you are still waiting on unemployment benefits, please fill out this form. ABC Action News plans to send this list to the state on a regular basis.