Florida to turn away $300 federal unemployment aid next month

At least 22 other states have said they will leave the program early.
Many states are ending the $300 weekly extended unemployment benefits, arguing it discourages people from seeking work.
Many states are ending the $300 weekly extended unemployment benefits, arguing it discourages people from seeking work.
Published May 24, 2021|Updated May 24, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s unemployment agency announced Monday that it would stop jobless Floridians from receiving an additional $300 in weekly benefits next month.

The Department of Economic Opportunity announced the state would stop participating in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program starting the week of June 27.

The program, which was set to run out in September, has been giving jobless Floridians an additional $300 in weekly benefits on top of eligible state benefits, which top out at $275 per week, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

The state said it made the decision to end the program early to get Floridians to return to work. Companies have been experiencing labor shortages in the wake of the pandemic, and business groups have been asking states to do away with the benefits.

“The jobs are there,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference on Monday. “I’m confident, with almost half a million job openings, that people are going to be able to get a job and get back to work.”

At least 22 states, all with Republican governors, have already said they were withdrawing early from the federal program.

Florida’s decision was quickly celebrated by Associated Industries of Florida, a group that lobbies DeSantis and state lawmakers on behalf of some of the state’s largest businesses.

Economists, however, are mixed about how much jobless benefits are contributing to the shortage. A paper published this month by the San Francisco Federal Reserve found the $300 benefit likely plays a “small but noticeable role” in delaying workers’ return to the job.

The explanation for the labor shortage is more complex than unemployment benefits, many economists say.

Childcare burdens, fear of coronavirus, and career changes have all also been cited as playing a role in holding back workers from returning to the labor force.

Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle said in a news release Monday that the state has more than 460,000 jobs available, but there are far fewer Floridians receiving unemployment benefits.

For the week ending May 8, the most recent data available, fewer than 150,000 Floridians had the potential to receive benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Jimmy Flanigan, chairman, president and CEO of Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill based in Fort Lauderdale, said he remains in “dire” need of workers, estimating he is at least 300 short of where he’d like to be.

While he is hopeful the state’s new order will relieve some of the logjam, he acknowledged it still may not be enough given ongoing concerns about the virus and demands for childcare some workers may be facing.

He said he his now facing “substantial” wage inflation as he confronts the worker shortage — though he also said he was “behind” on raising pay because he did not grant pandemic bonuses.

He said he has been able to prevent raising most menu prices for now because sales have been so strong, but that that won’t last forever.

“I’m hopeful (the federal benefits) were a much bigger piece of the puzzle than we think,” Flanigan said.

Federal unemployment benefits were a critical lifeline for the millions of Floridians who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The maximum state benefits come to just $6.87 per hour, well below the state’s minimum wage, and an amount that can’t cover rent for many Floridians. The maximum amount has not changed since 1998, and state lawmakers decided last month not to increase it.

Related: How unemployment got lost during Florida’s legislative session

Congress decided to subsidize state unemployment systems by offering an additional $600 per week last year. In all, Floridians have received more than $22 billion in federal benefits and $5.9 billion in state benefits, according to the state.

One state lawmaker encouraged officials to reconsider the decision to stop federal benefits.

“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,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, in a statement.

Times/Herald staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.

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