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Florida opts to give unemployed an extra $300 a week through federal program

Tim Turner
News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE --- Florida plans to take part in a program that President Donald Trump announced this month to boost unemployment benefits for people who have lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday.

Floridians who are already eligible for at least $100 a week in state assistance and are out of work because of the pandemic will be eligible for $300 a week in federal aid, according to the governor’s office.

DeSantis, who has been criticized for not quickly seeking the federal money offered by Trump on Aug. 8 or enacting other measures to bolster state jobless benefits, said Wednesday he wanted to make sure the state and federal governments were “on the same page.”

“We've been working through that,” DeSantis said during an event at Universal Studios in Orlando. “We actually do have an application. It's being sent today. I spoke with the secretary of labor. I think it will be favorably approved.”

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Funding may still take weeks to reach out-of-work Floridians. Only three states --- Arizona, Texas and Louisiana --- have started distributing the federal benefits.

Most states aren’t expected to begin drawing the money until the end of September.

Florida, with a July unemployment rate of 11.3 percent, representing 1.125 million jobless people, will make the new federal payments retroactive to Aug. 1, according to the governor’s office.

Trump announced the program after a program that provided $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits expired in July. That amount, approved in a stimulus plan in the spring, came on top of state jobless benefits.

Congressional leaders and the Trump administration could not reach agreement on extending or revamping the $600-a-week assistance, ultimately leading to Trump announcing his own plan.

An executive memo issued by Trump provided a short-term shift in Federal Emergency Management Agency money to pay for the unemployment benefits. The program requires a 25 percent contribution from each participating state.

The requirement of a state contribution raised questions about how Florida could fund its share if it chose to participate. The information released Wednesday by the governor’s office indicates the state is relying for its contribution on payments of up to $100 a week it makes to jobless people.

Florida provides up to $275 a week in state benefits that last for 12 weeks, a period that ended long ago for many people who started getting assistance early in the pandemic.

Still, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that Florida drew 66,322 new unemployment claims during the week that ended Aug. 15, up 4,738 from the prior week.

Since mid-March, the state has distributed nearly $14.3 billion to 1.9 million unemployment applicants, with more than $11 billion coming from the federal government.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity since the start of August has been advised by companies of more than 7,000 current or pending layoffs, including 85 at Canaveral Port Authority, 290 by Sky Chefs in Miami, 601 at Orlando World Center Marriott and more than 2,500 coming in mid-October from HSMHost restaurants and concessions at airports in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa.