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Florida Adds 24,000 Jobless Claims As Trump Ponders Relief Bill

Perejona Lavenal waits for assistance with unemployment at Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in North Miami on Aug. 11, 2020. Deloitte Consulting’s work on the state’s unemployment system left millions of Floridians unable to collect unemployment claims.
The Miami Herald
Perejona Lavenal waits for assistance with unemployment at Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in North Miami on Aug. 11, 2020. Deloitte Consulting’s work on the state’s unemployment system left millions of Floridians unable to collect unemployment claims.

TALLAHASSEE --- Florida’s unemployment agency awaits a decision by President Donald Trump about the latest federal-stimulus package, which could provide $300 a week in assistance after Christmas to jobless residents.

Congress passed the long-sought $900 billion COVID-19 relief package this week, teeing it up for action by Trump. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday estimated that another 24,000 first-time jobless claims were filed in Florida last week, close to the state average for more than a month.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which runs the state’s unemployment system, said in a daily update that it is reviewing the provisions of the federal package as Trump decides whether to sign it.

“DEO (the department) is preparing to implement the changes to the programs, which include additional weeks of benefits for the federal programs and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments of $300 for weeks beginning after December 26, 2020,” the department said. “Additional information on program implementation will be provided as it becomes available.”

The Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides additional weeks of benefits to claimants who have exhausted state benefits.

Trump has raised the possibility of vetoing the overall package, at least in part because he thinks planned $600 stimulus checks for individuals should be increased to $2,000. He also has called for more assistance to small businesses.

“The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated. It really is a disgrace,” Trump said in a video posted on Twitter in which he said the bill has “almost nothing to do with COVID.”

“Despite all of this wasteful spending and much more, the $900 billion package provides hard-working taxpayers with only $600 each in relief payments, and not enough money is given to small businesses, and in particular restaurants, whose owners have suffered so grievously.” Trump added.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., was among six senators who voted against the package, saying concerns about the price tag topped his support for COVID-19-related provisions to help small businesses. Scott also said he was glad the package didn’t provide “state bailouts.”

“But, in classic Washington style, vital programs are being attached to an omnibus spending bill that mortgages our children and grandchildren’s futures without even giving members a chance to read it,” Scott said. “We are not spending money we have in the bank or anticipate we will collect in taxes. Washington doesn’t seem to understand that new spending today will be paid for by increased federal debt and result in a tax increase on families down the road. We have to stop operating this way.”

Other members of Florida’s congressional delegation have backed the funding as delivering desperately needed help to Americans struggling during the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

“The bill includes emergency economic relief to American families, including direct payments of $600 per adult and child, expanded federal unemployment benefits of $300 per week, a 15 percent boost to SNAP benefits and funding to restock food banks that have been heroically feeding our communities every day,” U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said in a prepared statement, using an acronym for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close political ally of Trump, on Wednesday acknowledged that the more than 5,000-page bill offers a lot needed on the “COVID-side.” However, DeSantis said the package “got sidetracked,” jamming in foreign aid and other funding unrelated to the pandemic.

“They're sending money to Pakistan. They're sending money, all these things. This is a situation where our country has had problems, let's address those problems,” DeSantis, a former congressman, said while at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola.

DeSantis said it could take weeks for the state to fully grasp all of the Florida-related benefits in the package.

“I've got people digging in to see what does it mean for Florida,” DeSantis said. “We're going to have to spend probably the next two or three weeks going through that to try to do it. And so, what I would say is, he's (Trump's) got to make decisions he wants, but there could have been more relief targeted to people that have been hurt since the coronavirus started and hurt, a lot of it, through government policies."

Since March 15, when the pandemic started to deeply affect Florida’s economy, the state Department of Economic Opportunity has paid out more than $19.5 billion in unemployment benefits to nearly 2.15 million people, with the federal government accounting for more than 80 percent of the money.

Many Floridians quickly ran through state benefits, which total up to $275 a week for 12 weeks, while a federal stimulus plan offering $600 a week expired in July. Trump in September set up a short-term program that provided $300 a week, which was available to Floridians who were eligible for at least $100 a week in state assistance and were out of work because of the pandemic.

With massive layoffs still pending across the state, most notably at Walt Disney properties across Central Florida, the state last Friday posted a 6.4 percent unemployment rate for November. The rate indicates 651,000 Floridians qualified as unemployed in mid-November, 7,000 fewer than a month earlier, with seasonal hiring down from past years and the travel and leisure industries still struggling.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that 24,092 claims were made in Florida the week ending Dec. 19.

That was reported as a 7 percent drop from 26,018 claims during the week ending Dec. 12. However, the federal agency initially put the state’s new claims for the week of Dec. 12 at 21,780.

The state has averaged nearly 26,000 new claims a week since mid-November.

Jim Turner / News Service of Florida
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