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Federal jobless aid to flow in Florida

Unemployment $15 billion and counting

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida will start adding $300 in federal money to weekly unemployment benefits as COVID-19 continues keeping hundreds of thousands of residents out of work, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday.

The short-term aid, through the Federal Lost Wages Assistance program, is also retroactive for weeks of unemployment ending on or after Aug. 1, the governor’s office said.

“These additional funds will provide critical support to Florida’s unemployed workforce due to COVID-19,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

The program will be administered similar to an earlier federal assistance program that expired in July, and unemployment applicants will not need to file additional paperwork, the governor’s office said.

Most Floridians will get the added federal benefits the same way they receive their weekly state assistance. However, paper checks will be issued to people who get assistance through debit cards.

Florida, which provides up to $275 a week in unemployment assistance for 12 weeks, had an 11.3 percent jobless rate in July, representing 1.125 million unemployed people.

Since mid-March, the state has distributed around $15 billion to 1.95 million unemployment applicants, with more than $11.7 billion coming from the federal government. The earlier federal program provided $600 in additional weekly benefits. 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 the new federal funding.

President Donald Trump issued a directive on Aug. 8 to use Federal Emergency Management Agency money for the program.

As the state began processing the additional $300 payments, the total paid out by the state jumped by more than $815 million in one day. That pushes the total payments since March over $15 billion, and likely over the $16 billion mark by Thursday.

“It’s basically, at this point, a total of $900 maximum that someone can get,” said state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez.

While the additional cash is welcome, Democrats and the AFL-CIO argue it’s not enough.

“Florida has the stingiest unemployment system and arguably the most dysfunctional system by design,” Rodriguez said.

On labor’s wish wist: More weeks of benefits with higher weekly payments.

“We know from the states own data every dollar paid out in benefits generates a $1.64 in local economic activity. This is also a boon for the economy,” said Dr. Rich Templin, with the Florida AFL-CIO.

The union argues the governor could use his emergency powers to increase the length of eligibility and raise payments but said he has chosen not to.

“The issue isn’t that he can’t try to order some of these things. If someone feels he can’t, then take him to court,” Templin said.

So far, $4 of every $5 paid in unemployment claims in Florida has come from the federal government, but even at that low percentage, the state has already exhausted three-fourths of its reemployment trust fund, setting the stage for higher employer contributions in the future.

Anyone eligible for unemployment benefits on or after Aug. 1 doesn’t have to do anything.

Payments for the weeks of Aug. 1, 8 and 15 will automatically show up in accounts.