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Florida Is Latest State To End Federal Jobless Benefits Early

Unemployment Benefit Claim Approved Stamp on whote background
Stuart Miles
Florida will become at least the 22nd state to end participation in the federal benefits program, which is scheduled to expire in September.

Jobless Floridians will no longer get an extra $300 a week in federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits starting in late June.

Florida is the latest GOP-controlled state to announce plans to cut off the payments early.

Unemployed workers in Florida were supposed to continue receiving the extra $300 weekly federal supplement through Sept. 6, according to a state Department of Economic Opportunity press release.

A report released Friday showed that an estimated 487,000 Floridians were unemployed in April out of 10.24 million. DEO called the move “another key step to returning more Floridians to work,” dubbing it the “Return to Work” initiative.

“More Floridians, including some who completely left the workforce, are now eagerly reentering the workforce," said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle.

There are still plenty of job openings across the state, according to the department, which has tracked roughly 450,000 online job postings.

"Transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce,” Eagle said.

Florida will become at least the 22nd state to announce plans to cut the federal pandemic-related benefits early. A number of Republican-led states will cut benefits next month, including Georgia, Texas and Alabama.

Several industry groups are praising Florida’s decision to join them. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Chamber of Commerce all issued statements supporting the move. They say the extra benefits incentivize people not to work.

“Even though our industry is open for business, we are facing a dire labor shortage,” Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association President and CEO Carol Dover said in a statement. “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 foodservice and lodging.”

Labor unions, however, have long argued that employers should raise wages and provide better benefits to fill the hiring demand.

The state is ending its participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program on June 26.

The department is continuing other federally funded pandemic-related assistance programs, including the Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs, which are set to expire on Sept. 6.

Florida pays a maximum of $275 a week in state benefits to unemployed people. Eagle has said people are taking advantage of the combined state and federal assistance, which is competitive with weekly pay at many restaurants and tourism businesses.

“You've seen restaurants that have had to close earlier or open later or close certain days of the week,” Eagle said during a recent news conference outside downtown Tallahassee’s Metro Deli. "The 2021 pandemic is unemployment, not being able to hire. So, we've got to put an end to that.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, quickly posted Monday on Twitter that ending the federal assistance is a “terrible idea that feeds into Florida's already broken unemployment system.”

During the legislative session that ended April 30, the Senate pushed to increase the maximum state benefits to $375 a week. But while Florida’s current benefits are among the lowest in the nation, the GOP-backed proposal died amid opposition from House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Sprowls and DeSantis said their focus was on getting people back to work.

The state’s unemployment rate in April was 4.8%, up from 4.7% in March. The number of people employed increased by 59,000 from March to April, while the workforce grew by 73,000 at the same time.

Since March 15, 2020, the start of the pandemic, the state has paid out more than $28.3 billion to 2.37 million unemployment claimants. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program has accounted for nearly $17.3 billion of the money distributed, while the state program has accounted for more than $5.9 billion. The remainder of the money has come from two smaller federal programs set to expire in early September.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.