ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday he doesn’t favor raising Florida’s unemployment benefits, which are some of the nation’s lowest, but is focused instead on getting people back to work.
At an event in Lakeland, the Republican governor also urged people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and said employers need workers to get back to a semblance of normalcy.
“Increase benefits? Look, no, I think we are getting people back to work,” DeSantis said. “You see and hear these stories about businesses need more, our goal is to get people back to work.”
The governor's comments come as the state Senate is moving a bill sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jason Brodeur that would increase maximum benefits from $275 a week to $375 a week and boost the duration of benefits from 12 weeks to 14 weeks.
“We have a moral obligation to provide enough support to help meet some basic needs for Floridians who are out of work, through no fault of their own, and are looking for employment,” Brodeur said recently.
Most states, however, provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits and generally the weekly amounts are much higher.
The bill was unanimously approved Thursday by the 20-member Senate Appropriations Committee and sent to the Senate floor for consideration. It could be heard as soon as Wednesday.
House Democrats have proposed much bigger increases, but have not gotten any traction - and the Republican-controlled House has not seen the urgency to advance the matter.
DeSantis seems to feel the same way.
“Our unemployment is what it is, it's fine,” DeSantis said. “We have paid out $26 billion over the last year. That has got to be more than the last 10, 20 years combined. We have paid out a lot.”
The state's unemployment system has also been beset by problems, such as people unable to access it when thousands tried as the coronavirus caused massive layoffs and job loss.
DeSantis in the past has called the current system a “jalopy” and directed that it be fixed. Dane Eagle, the Department of Economic Opportunity secretary, told legislators in March it would cost $73 million over two years to upgrade the system. The actual cost may be much higher.
As for coronavirus vaccinations, DeSantis said people who are fully vaccinated should resume normal activities and not fear the virus any longer.
“If you got a vaccine, you're immune,” the governor said. “You should enjoy yourself and have confidence.”
Associated Press writer Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee contributed to this story.