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The South Florida Roundup

Extra Federal Unemployment Benefit Set To Expire, Could Affect Thousands Of South Floridians

A woman asks for an unemployment form at a Miami library during the coronavirus pandemic in April.

An extra unemployment payment from the federal government is set to expire next week.

Out-of-work Americans have been receiving an extra $600 per week to help offset the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Tens of thousands of South Floridians could be affected if Congress doesn’t agree on a plan soon.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose district includes Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: Senate Republicans have been negotiating with President Donald Trump around a COVID-19 economic stimulus. The Senate Republicans are expected to release their plan on Monday. What do you expect to be in it?

REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL POWELL: If you remember, we passed the HEROES Act over two months ago. It extends the $600 unemployment benefit. Republicans said that they wanted to hit a pause and negotiate a bill over the last two weeks, while we saw Covid numbers surge in our communities in South Florida. So the Senate Republicans apparently right now are in disagreement about what to put in this bill. One of the main points of contention is this $600 amount that we included in [the] HEROES Act.

The $600 federal booster is a flat rate for those who qualify for it, regardless of their previous income. The Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said on CNBC on Thursday that the federal unemployment booster would be approximately 70 percent wage replacement. So does it would be floating based upon the person's lost income, not a flat rate. What would that mean in South Florida?

The reason why the House chose that amount was we wanted to have a blanket amount that would cover people living all over the country. So instead of giving $200 to someone living in a rural part of the Midwest, we wanted to make it fair and even for all families across America.

If the Senate and the White House, though, agree to a floating rate booster instead of a flat $600, is that something that you and your Democratic colleagues in the House could sign on to?

DMP: What we're saying is give us back what you agreed to. Whether it's $600, whether it's a floating rate. You know, someone proposed $100. We need to see what they come back with. And then I need to take a look at that and see if that's going to be appropriate for my community down in South Florida. As you know, Miami has a very high cost of living more than most cities across America.

And one of the my concerns is that we can't even figure out a way to provide those $600 that we've already passed in the CARES Act back in March, because the governor has yet to fix the unemployment system in our state.

The states are the ones that dole out the money that comes from the federal government in terms of that booster. Florida's unemployment system has been rife with delays, dropped calls and dropped applications. What kind of confidence can you legislate from Congress regarding that kind of technological trip-ups that have caught up so many Floridians?

DMP: I spoke to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee to help me because I had already sent a letter to the Department of Labor to help the state of Florida figure out the dysfunctionality of that system. I know that the governor in Rhode Island had similar issues initially, but she contracted out a private I.T. company that was able to fix that system. And they've been processing thousands of applications and employment applications every day. We can do this.

The transcript of this interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.