Lawyers plan to sue Florida for cutting off federal unemployment early

Florida lawyers are getting ready to file a lawsuit against the state for cutting off extra federal unemployment money early.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and 25 other Republican governors stopped allowing the $300 a week the feds offered to supplement regular unemployment payments, called the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC). The governor said it would encourage people to get back to work.

These kinds of lawsuits have already seen success. Judges in Indiana and Maryland determined those states have to continue making those payments, and many unemployed Floridians hope the same happens in their state.

As business owners began to blame benefits for a lack of applicants, DeSantis responded.

“Employers have said since we made that change, there’s some that said they had more applications in three weeks than they had in the previous three months,” said DeSantis in a press conference Monday.

After June 26, the governor withdrew Florida from the FPUC program, but it wasn’t supposed to end until September.

“I think the states that don’t do that are going to have a little bit more of a stagnation,” DeSantis said.

But according to a 2020 analysis by the U.S. Joint Economic Committee, five different studies found no evidence to suggest the extra money slowed job growth, and unemployed people say cutting it off isn’t fair.

“It’s so detrimental to their financial stability, to their mental health,” said Vanessa Brito, an unemployment benefits advocate in the state.

Brito has helped people navigate the unemployment system since last year, and she plans to fundraise to help with attorney’s fees when the lawsuit is filed.

“It represents every UI claimant who was eligible for FPUC and now is going without because the state decided to terminate that agreement,” Brito said.

Brito says people looking for work still have trouble finding it, especially older folks and people with health and child care concerns.

“I have people who are asking me to review their resume or figure out why it is that their profile isn’t getting picked up, or why they aren’t getting calls for interviews,” Brito said. “Florida has had an incredible delay and backlog in paying benefits, so that $300, when it came, if it came, was very helpful.”

Brito says the lawsuit might be filed as soon as early as the week of July 19, likely out of Broward County.

The governor’s office didn’t get back to us for comment after we reached out. A representative from the Department of Economic Opportunity said in an email, “The Department is unaware of any lawsuit regarding the state’s termination of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program.”

WINK News has also been pushing to set up a one-on-one interview with DEO Secretary Dane Eagle to discuss the concerns of unemployed people, including the unemployment website that is still crashing and causing problems for claimants and unanswered phone calls to the department’s help line. We’ve not yet received a response.

MORE: Studies Show $600 Weekly Enhanced Unemployment Benefit Has Not Slowed Labor Market Recovery

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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