Florida announces end to federally funded boost to unemployment benefits

Additional compensation set to end on June 26

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity announced on Monday that the state will withdraw from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program, removing additional funds from those who receive unemployment payments.

The DEO made the announcement with a post on Twitter that stated the withdrawal will take effect on June 26.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program gives people who are currently on unemployment a $300 weekly payment from the federal government in addition to the state’s unemployment payment — which is a minimum of $32 and a maximum of $275.

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The state said this is part of the DEO’s “Return to Work” initiative, according to a news release. The release also states that Florida will continue other federal reemployment assistance benefit programs — including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation — for the time being.

“Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ leadership, Florida’s economy has bounced back tremendously with over 460,000 jobs available throughout our state and the strongest economic conditions in the nation,” Dane Eagle, Secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said in a news release. “Florida’s employers are also seeing employment growth, as more Floridians, including some who completely left the workforce, are now eagerly reentering the workforce. Transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the end of the federal funds during a news conference in Miami Monday.

“The real reason is simple — we got almost half a million job openings in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We’re proud of the fact that we’ve got a lot of economic momentum and so now we’re transitioning from relief in the midst of a crisis to now having the more traditional reemployment outlook. This is something that’s a stop-gap for people until they can get back on their feet and get back to work.”

Nicole Commesso, the owner of Dominick’s Restaurant in the heart of Winter Springs’ Tuscawilla neighborhood, was hopeful after the DEO announcement.

She’s had to close on Sundays and could only serve pizza on Friday and Saturday nights because of a severe staffing shortage. They lost six servers and are trying to survive with only five now.

“We’re losing people because they can get the unemployment and don’t have to work,” Commesso said. “We make more money staying at home is pretty much the big thing. They’re telling us this.”

Commesso said she’s spent $1,500 over the past couple of months running hiring ads.

Starting pay at Dominick’s is now $12 an hour and even that’s not enough, Commesso learned.

“We had one gentleman that was actually terminated, he was a dishwasher, making $13 an hour. We were in a bind so Dominick called him and said, ‘Hey listen, I know we had some issues but I’d like to resolve them with you and I’ll give you a $3 raise to come back.’ He said, ‘No I’m good, I’m collecting unemployment because I was terminated.’”

The DEO announcement comes a little more than a week after DeSantis said he was working on ways to address the workforce issues many businesses have been experiencing across the state.

“Here’s what I would do, if you are going to do the federal money on top of the state, I would rather apply that as a reemployment assistance, assistance for getting employed again,” DeSantis said at the time.

State officials have not said if those federal payments will be repurposed for that.

The governor also announced the work search requirement will return for those receiving unemployment benefits. DeSantis lifted the requirement that people receiving benefits look for work early in the pandemic when unemployment was rising and few were hiring, but he said May will be the last month when the search for work requirement will not be in place.

“This was kind of shocking if you want to know the truth when I saw what was being done,” Sen. Linda Stewart said.

Stewart said the move is premature.

“I think that it’s wrong for them to slash this money at this time and I think the benefits are owed to the people,” Stewart said.

Stewart said DeSantis is turning his back on Floridians.

“He does not seem to have an idea of what the struggles are out there, the community and what they have been for over a year,” she said.

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About the Authors:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.