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Fight to restore Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments continues in Florida court

'I want to see how many times they can really turn their back on people,' Vanessa Brito says
Posted at 5:37 PM, Sep 07, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Despite a recent loss in court, the fight isn’t over yet.

A group of Florida unemployed workers said Tuesday they would continue seeking back pay from a now-expired federal boost program through a new legal avenue.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program officially expired Monday. It was offering claimants in participating areas an extra $300 a week on top of their state benefits.

Floridians have not had access since late June after Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to withdraw from the program early to push unemployed workers back into the workforce.

Plaintiffs first announced they would challenge the legality of the action in late July.

Circuit Judge J. Layne Smith denied the temporary injunction last week saying DeSantis was within rights to withdraw. The judge also questioned how officials would pay claimants retroactively, given that the program was close to expiration.

It was frustrating for Vanessa Brito who helped organize the lawsuit.

The Miami-based community organizer has helped raise nearly $30,000 to support future legal challenges, which she said are coming.

Attorneys plan to file a motion this week calling on the judge to reconsider his ruling. If that doesn’t work -- an appeal in district court would follow next.

"We'll do the reconsideration," Brito said. "We'll see what happens there and then from there, you know, we'll give them a chance in the appellate court. I want to see -- I want to see how many times they can really turn their back on people."

Vanessa Brito, community organizer
Vanessa Brito says future legal challenges are coming regarding the federal funds for unemployed workers.

Meanwhile, state officials have applauded Smith's verdict.

In a recent statement, Deputy Director of Communications Andrew G. Nixon called the governor "a champion for working Floridians and Florida’s business community."

"The court ruling issued [Aug. 30] affirms that the State of Florida's successful Return to Work Initiative and subsequent withdrawing participation from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program was the right decision legally and has proven to increase employment and workforce participation," Nixon said. "Because of Governor DeSantis' leadership, the economic facts have proven that the state continues to outpace the rest of the nation in economic recovery."

Critics question whether Florida has actually benefited from early withdrawal, suggesting evidence is vague. The state's unemployment remains below the national average and Florida has seen fifteen consecutive months of job growth.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs were expected to file the motion to reconsider either Tuesday or Wednesday.