TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida House voted Tuesday to reject efforts aimed at increasing the amount of unemployment benefits provided to those laid off or furloughed.
What You Need To Know
- Florida has among the lowest unemployment benefits in the nation at $275 per week with a max of 12 weeks.
- Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani petitioned the House to increase benefits to $375 per week
- WATCH: View the entire House Session pertaining to House Bill 1463
Barring any last minute deal in the final weeks of the legislative session, the vote essentially ends any hope of providing additional unemployment benefits.
Florida has among the lowest benefits in the nation: $275 per week with a max of 12 weeks.
The GOP-controlled House rejected a series of amendments Democratic State Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith filed to a larger bill addressing the state’s problem-plagued unemployment system.
Eskamani petitioned the House to increase benefits by $100 to $375 per week.
“The notion that accepting benefits keeps people at home is false,” Eskamani told lawmakers on the floor of the House. “At the same time, we want to make sure if you are down on your luck and looking for a new job, you won’t have to worry about paying rent on time, or putting food on the table, or keeping your car from being repossessed.”
Eskamani illustrated how she has spent the majority of her nearly $30,000 state lawmaker salary paying rent and other bills for Floridians who have been desperate for help. The Orlando lawmaker says her office alone has responded to more than 30,000 calls, emails and pleas for help in the past year.
While Democrats came into session pushing for $500 per week with a new cap of 26 weeks, the more modest proposal was gaining some support.
State Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) is proposing a $100 increase to $375 per week for a new cap of 14 weeks. Brodeur’s bill, SB 1906, breezed through the Senate Appropriations Committee last week and now heads to a vote before the full chamber, where it recently secured the support of Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield (R-Melbourne).
Tuesday’s vote in the House could stall those efforts, so without a last-minute deal in the final weeks of the legislative session, it appears there will be little chance of it ending with any expansion of benefits.
Even if lawmakers did approve increasing benefits, there are questions if Gov. Ron DeSantis would approve.
Last week, DeSantis said he was against increasing benefits.
“This is the right thing to do,” Eskamani said. “We gave a big tax break to businesses, the least thing we can do is to make sure workers get a fair share and the opportunity to have benefits so they can survive on, and benefits so we can reflect more the nation average.”
Eskamani’s remarks are aimed at DeSantis’ late night sweep of private bill signings, including one that will soon require the collection of sales tax for all online sales.
Current law only requires businesses with a physical presence in Florida to collect online sales tax. The bill DeSantis signed into law just before midnight Monday now requires sales tax collections for all in-person and online sales.
The effort was originally a Democratic idea, saying the estimated $1 billion in revenues could be used to expand critically needed programs and services. First rejected by Republicans, GOP lawmakers then adopted the idea as a means to, at least temporarily, replenish the state’s depleted state unemployment trust fund.
Florida businesses pay unemployment taxes to fund the Unemployment Trust Fund, but the new law will remove that burden on in state companies.
While the House rejected efforts to expand unemployment benefits, they did pass the framework of House Bill 1463, which addresses the technical and functional aspects of the CONNECT unemployment system.
In the height of the pandemic, DeSantis admitted the "system was designed to fail" as lawmakers on both sides agreed the system is in need of being replaced.
Spectrum News extensively showcased the endless problems Floridians experienced in the last year trying to obtain unemployment benefits.
On the floor of the House, Eskamani said the total bill has merits, but also criticized aspects of the proposal.
One aspect was a provision requiring Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to conduct regular reviews and produce reports and action plans, but the bill did not require the agency to actually address or take action on any report’s recommendation.
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Dane Eagle told Spectrum News at the start of session that it would need $244 million over the next five years to fix the problems.