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Florida plans early departure from federal unemployment boost

'The state of Florida does not care about its workers,' Rep. Anna Eskamani says
Posted at 6:11 PM, May 24, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — No more unemployment boost.

State officials said Monday that Florida plans to withdraw from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program in June, several months before its September expiration date.

Following the economic shutdown last year, the program has provided Florida's unemployed with an extra $300 in federal dollars each week. The money comes on top of the state program, providing a weekly max of $275, which is one of the lowest in the nation.

"It was tough," said Lee Van Pelt, a Tallahassee recipient of unemployment last year. "It was really tough. I was still worried if we were going to pay our bills -- if I was going to lose our health insurance."

Those fears, Van Pelt said, would have become reality without that $300 weekly boost from the federal government.

"We wouldn't have made it," she said. "We wouldn't have. Even if we did make it, we would be so far behind now we would just be drowning."

But that was 2020.

Months later, Florida officials have said they believe the state's economy is in a better place. Losing the federal bump, they hoped, would bring people back to the workforce.

"Thanks to Governor DeSantis' leadership, Florida's economy has bounced back tremendously with over 460,000 jobs available throughout our state and the strongest economic conditions in the nation," said Dane Eagle, Secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in a statement. "Florida's employers are also seeing employment growth, as more Floridians, including some who completely left the workforce, are now eagerly reentering the workforce. Transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce."

Florida's June 27 departure means it’ll join at least 22 other states leaving early. All of them with Republican governors.

"There's no way to sugarcoat it," said State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. "The state of Florida does not care about its workers."

 State Rep. Anna Eskamani
State Rep. Anna Eskamani says the decision to end the $300 in federal benefits is a bad idea.

Eskamani said leaving the money on the table is a terrible idea. She represents parts of central Florida where her constituents are still struggling.

"The tourism economy is slowly bouncing back, but it's not happening overnight," Eskamani said. "To force these folks to have to live with very meager benefits because of a political ideology is foolish."

Lawmakers did try to boost Florida's unemployment benefits permanently during this year’s lawmaking session. The bill got through Senate but died in the House. You can expect another attempt next year.

Even though Florida's ending participation in the pay-boost program, for now, it will continue to participate in other federal unemployment initiatives. That includes:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
  • Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation

All three have a Sept. 6 expiration.