Ron DeSantis says Florida will sign onto Trump’s enhanced unemployment benefits program

It’s a decision that could affect hundreds of thousands of Floridians.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Aug. 26, 2020|Updated Aug. 26, 2020

TALLAHASSEE ― Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that Florida would participate in the enhanced unemployment benefits program offered through an executive memorandum signed by President Trump earlier this month.

Floridians who currently receive at least $100 per week in unemployment benefits would be eligible for an additional $300 per week in federal benefits under Florida’s participation in the program. Only residents who have had their employment status affected by the coronavirus pandemic would be eligible for the additional funds, the governor’s office said in a news release.

Unemployed Floridians need not apply for the enhanced benefits. Those already receiving state benefits will receive the weekly payments of up to $300 retroactive to Aug. 1 if Florida’s participation in the program is approved by the federal government, the news release said.

The additional unemployment funding will come out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund. The news release cautioned that the funding could run out “at any time, and is contingent upon a required state match based on state re-employment assistance paid out during the period.”

As of now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s funding is expected to last Florida about three weeks — in addition to whatever weeks of back pay are owed, DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo said.

The decision to sign onto the federal program will affect the thousands of Floridians who have been surviving for the better part of a month on Florida’s maximum of $275 per week benefits.

From late March through July, unemployment benefit recipients were eligible for an additional sum of up to $600 per week in federal aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law on March 27. That relief bill also gave Florida’s government about $5.9 billion to help the state manage pandemic-related expenses.

At the end of July, the enhanced unemployment benefits expired, however, as Democrats and Republicans in Congress failed to agree on a way to extend the program. In response, Trump signed an executive memorandum making other government funds available to the unemployed.

Florida could have offered up to $400 per week in additional benefits under Trump’s program. However, that would have required Florida pulling money from its state allocation of CARES Act money to fund 25 percent of the $400 payments.

DeSantis said two weeks ago that this was unfeasible for Florida.

“Those CARES Act dollars are obligated already,” the governor said then.

Related: Ron DeSantis seeks alternative to Trump’s plan for $400 weekly unemployment benefits

That appears to be how the state arrived at the $300 per week figure announced Wednesday.

Florida lawmakers from both parties have for weeks been calling on DeSantis to take advantage of the federal program.

However, not all were satisfied with Wednesday’s announcement.

“We waited way too long to apply,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said in a text message. “We need a lot more.”

Related: ‘We desperately need it': Florida lawmakers say Ron DeSantis should take Trump deal

As of Monday, 30 states had been approved for the program, according to the New York Times.

DeSantis said on Wednesday that Florida didn’t wait to apply for the program. It simply took officials some time to understand what was allowed under Trump’s memo.

“Remember, the executive order came down, no one was anticipating that,” DeSantis said. “A lot of the agencies, the federal agencies, it took them many days to be able to get on the same page. So we’ve been working through that.”