Jobless workers demonstrate in Miami Springs in support of continued federal unemployment benefits in the pandemic economy. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to cut off distribution of the $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement, a labor union is exploring legal action if the governor doesn’t reverse course.
The federal unemployment program expires in Florida on Saturday but the Florida AFL-CIO hopes DeSantis will accede to its petition, supported by additional advocacy groups, urging the governor “to reverse his decision to end federal unemployment benefits for out-of-work Floridians.”
The union delivered that petition to the governor’s office Thursday and also sent an electronic copy. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplement had been scheduled to last until Sept. 6.
Rich Templin, the union’s director of politics and public policy, said during a virtual press conference that his group is exploring a lawsuit against the state, if necessary.
“We have reached out to investigate that option. … We are hopeful the governor will do the right thing,” Templin said. “It [the federal benefit] doesn’t hurt the state at all. It is literally federal dollars.”
Two organizations in Indiana had filed a lawsuit against that state’s Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to block him from ending federal unemployment benefits in the state, according to an NPR report.
The petition contains “close to 7,000 signatures from Floridians,” Templin said. “These are signatures that were gathered in a relatively short period of time — just under three weeks.”
In the petition, advocates say that the COVID-19 pandemic “has made Florida’s childcare, housing, and health care crises worse and this is keeping many out of the workforce.”
Aaron Davison is a jobless worker in Orlando who relies on both state and federal unemployment insurance. During the press conference, Davison said that he had worked part time at Universal Orlando but was furloughed in May 2020, amid the pandemic.
He said he has been staying at different hotels in the Orlando area and hasn’t been able to find employment yet. At one point, Davison said, he was homeless.
“It has been our sanctuary, it was meant to be temporary. My biggest fear is for us to be put back in the car. … So it is very critical,” he said.
Many jobless workers never received or qualified for unemployment benefits, according to Templin. For those who did qualify, “only a fraction received” the maximum benefit amount of $275 per week, he added.
“The governor is hurting individuals and taking money from taxpayers that will be sent to other states,” Templin said.
Meanwhile, DeSantis and other business groups, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, have pointed to an uptick in job openings as the reason for withdrawing from the federal unemployment benefits program.
In addition, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President Carol Dover previously stated that the hospitality industry has been suffering from dire staffing shortages because of workers receiving unemployment benefits.
“First we have to remind everyone — most workers who found themselves without a job during the tumultuous past 14 months never received a dime in state benefits,” Templin said.
“That is because of eligibility rules and other technical problems that were put in place 10 years ago when [former] Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation kind of gutting the unemployment insurance program,” he said.
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