ORLANDO, Fla. — As frustrated Floridians struggle to get current on unemployment benefits, doubt remains over whether more financial assistance will come after the current programs run out.
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is currently behind other states in its pacing to pay out state and federally-backed unemployment claims.
Since March 15, Florida DEO has paid out $1.5 billion in state claims and another $4.6 billion in federal unemployment benefits as part of a deal with the U.S. Treasury.
The federal benefits of $600 per week are above the state’s $275 weekly benefits. Some have called Florida’s program the “stingiest” in the nation with one of the lowest benefit payouts and shortest periods: 12 weeks.
Florida law does provide extended benefits, with caveats.
Florida law provides one extra week of benefits for every 0.5% the state’s unemployment rate grows above 5%, with a max benefit payout of 23 weeks. However, the unemployment rate would have to hold above 5% and extended benefits would not go into effect until the third fiscal quarter in October 2020.
As part of the CARES Act, Congress approved funding for four months of $600 weekly unemployment benefits with an end date of the last week of July.
The U.S. House of Representatives has since passed the Heroes Act, which in part would extend $600 weekly federal unemployment benefits until January 2021.
The legislation is now pending in the Senate with no promise it’ll be acted upon.
Meanwhile, a top economic adviser for President Donald Trump threw further doubt on the extension.
Larry Kudlow, Director of the U.S. National Economic Council, told CNN the administration is eyeing a program instead to incentivize people reentering the workforce.
“The $600-plus above the state unemployment benefits they’ll continue to receive is in effect a disincentive, we’re paying people not to work, it’s better than the salaries they would get,” Kudlow told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “That might have worked for the first couple of months, it’ll end in late July. I think returning to unemployment, we are, the administration, the President, are looking at reform measures that would provide some kind of bonus for returning to work and will not be as large, but creates an incentive to return to work.”
Floridians Demand Action
With a spiking number of coronavirus cases and families falling further into financial and emotional debt because of the state’s delay in paying out benefits, frustrated Floridians are pleading for more to be done.
“Florida’s unemployment website has been an unmitigated disaster and we still see hundreds of thousands of Floridians who still haven’t received their unemployment benefits,” said Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee.
Soto supports recent calls for the federal oversight of Florida’s administration of its unemployment system.
Call it “uniquely poor’, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, sent a letter last week to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General asking it launch a review of the agency’s oversight of Florida’s DEO.
“The shame is it took senators from New York and Oregon to point it out in committee meetings when it should be our senators fighting for it,” Soto said.
Much blame has been given to Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who in 2014 approved and oversaw the funding for the rollout of the state’s current unemployment system as governor. Critics say the Deloitte-designed system was intentionally created to delay and avoid paying out claims.
“This is a real issue that needs a proactive response,” said Tonya Olson.
A registered physical therapist, Olson had to put her small business on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
She says she has now waited more than 90 days to receive full benefits, after months of jumping through one DEO hurdle after the next.
She is now using Twitter to illustrate her troubles in a thread she jokingly calls “Daily Diary of Disappointment.”
“I’ve never borrowed money before and I’ve never broken al ease, but I didn’t have a choice,” Olson said.
Olson says she had to move to a new apartment, where the rent was less expensive and rent graces were provided. She, like others, have also had to find ways to try to make ends meet, including borrowing from friends or family.
“The government ordered us to stay home and rendered us unemployed,” Olson said. “We all complied, especially me as a medical professional, complied to save lives.”
It is a deal Olson said she believes the state has broken.
Unimpressed with the response from state leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, Olson said she is anxious for the systems to be fixed and for Floridians to be given what they’re owed.
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