Increase unemployment benefits? ‘No,’ DeSantis says

The governor’s opposition could spell trouble for state senators’ proposal to raise weekly benefits.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published April 16, 2021|Updated April 16, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday he opposed increasing Florida’s weekly unemployment benefits, which are among the lowest in the nation.

During a news conference, DeSantis was asked about a bill moving through the Legislature this year that would raise the maximum weekly benefits from $275, among the lowest in the nation, to $375, near the national average.

“Increase benefits?” he said. “Look, no, I think we’re getting people back to work.”

When asked again about the bill, DeSantis rebuffed the idea.

“Our unemployment is what it is. It’s fine,” he said. “The federal government obviously is putting in a lot of money.”

Requests for clarification sent to the governor’s spokespeople were not returned.

The governor’s opposition jeopardizes the most meaningful set of reforms to Florida’s unemployment system being considered in the Legislature this session, a year after the unemployment system melted down from a crush of pandemic-related claims.

The pandemic cast a spotlight on the state’s weekly benefits, which, top out at a maximum of $275. That works out to $6.87 per hour, a rate that hasn’t been changed since 1998. According to Forbes, Florida ranks tied for last among all all states and the District of Columbia in the average amount of unemployment benefits it provides workers.

Senate Bill 1906, which advanced in the Senate on Thursday and now faces a floor vote, would raise both the minimum and maximum weekly benefit amounts. It would also increase the duration of weeks someone could receive benefits, from 12 weeks to 14, when the unemployment rate is less than 5 percent.

DeSantis’ comments drew a swift reaction from some Democratic lawmakers who have been urging an increase in benefits.

“The House and Senate need to hold firm, and do what’s fair and decent for today, and tomorrow,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, tweeted.

“Unemployment is NOT fine,” tweeted state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “It’s broken & benefits are embarrassingly low.”

Last year, DeSantis expressed his surprise upon learning that maximum weekly unemployment benefits weren’t higher than $275.

During a March 17, 2020 news conference, the week the state was hit by a crush of unemployment claims, he was asked by a reporter about the low benefits.

“I think it’s a little higher,” he said, turning to the state’s then-Department of Economic Opportunity director, Ken Lawson. “What is it?”

“It’s $275,” Lawson said.

“$275 still? Ok,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said Friday he was focused on getting people back to work, and cited reports that employers are having a hard time finding workers.

“There is demand in the economy for hiring, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

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