FL cites increase in jobs as reason for ending federal unemployment aid; lawmakers say those pay low wages

By: - May 24, 2021 2:44 pm

Jobless workers demonstrate in Miami Springs in support of continued federal unemployment benefits in the pandemic economy. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida will cease distributing $300 per week in supplementary federal unemployment assistance next month, the official who supervises the state unemployment system announced on Monday, leaving jobless workers to scrape by on $275 per week.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle said in a press release that the extra benefit will end on June 26 in the interests of “returning more Floridians to work.” He cited an uptick in private sector employment and “online job postings available throughout the state for job seekers.”

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplement had been scheduled to last until Sept. 6. Lawmakers rejected efforts to boost Florida’s weekly benefit during the 2021 legislative session.

Gov. Ron DeSantis explained the withdrawal of the federal aid during a news conference in Miami: “The reason is simple: We’ve got almost a half-a-million job openings in the state of Florida.”

The administration suspended a job-search requirement for unemployment assistance last year because of massive workplace closures, DeSantis added.

“Now, we’re just in a much different situation. No matter where I go in the state of Florida, people will tell me, ‘Florida’s great, thanks for what you’re doing, governor, we just need to find more people to want to work.’” he said.

“So, the jobs are there. We’re proud of the fact that we’ve got a lot of economic momentum.”

State Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, told the Phoenix it is too early to suspend the federal unemployment benefits. Many of the new jobs, she said, pay low wages that make it hard for people to make ends meet.

“This is not the time to pull the rug out from under unemployed Floridians, many of whom are still attempting to navigate a broken system to receive benefits. While Florida has been adding jobs, even more Floridians have been re-entering the workforce — that’s why the state’s unemployment rate actually went up last month,” Stewart said in an email.

“This is just another example of the governor turning his back on Florida’s workers. He’s trying to force people into low-wage jobs by slashing their unemployment benefits. Floridians want to work — they just want to work at jobs that pay them a living wage,” she added.

To Rep. Anna Eskamani, who has been helping constituents navigate the unemployment system, the governor’s move would “strip away critical federal support that hundreds of thousands of people rely on,” she said.

“It’s been made clear time and time again that Florida’s governor does not care about our state’s workers,” Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said in a written statement.

“It’s shameful that Florida’s political leaders would choose ideological talking points and call workers lazy versus listen to the obstacles workers have faced in finding suitable work in our still recovering economy. Our office continues to be flooded with phone calls and emails from folks missing weeks if not months of unemployment benefits.”

Florida has the stingiest unemployment benefits in the nation, based on a combination of a 12-weeks limit and the maximum weekly amount, according to an analysis by States Newsroom, the Florida Phoenix’s parent company.

Meanwhile, after the DEO posted the announcement on Twitter, the agency received a flood of criticism from people via the social media platform. One user on Twitter called the decision, “cruelty at its worst.”

Some business organizations supported the decision.

Carol Dover, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President and CEO, said in a written statement:

“Florida’s hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though our industry is open for business, we are facing a dire labor shortage. Strong demand, coupled with this staffing shortage, has left many businesses forced to limit operating days and hours in addition to reducing capacity in both food service and lodging. Ending the supplemental $300 FPUC payment will help the industry regain pre-COVID levels.”

Mark Wilson, Florida Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said in his own written statement:

“The decision to end Florida’s participation in the FPUC program is essential to keeping Florida’s economic momentum going that Gov. DeSantis has had such a big role in creating. Florida currently has more than 450,000 jobs available throughout the state. This single action will help fill thousands of these vacancies and aid in ending the worker shortage throughout the state.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.