DeSantis to cut unemployment benefits to spur economy

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 7:50 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) - Florida is chugging again, but business leaders complain they can’t find enough workers.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is on a crusade to hammer home the message that the Sunshine State is open for business. And to help goose the workforce, DeSantis decided that the state will cut off an extra $300 in weekly federal unemployment assistance starting June 26.

Florida -- which pays a maximum of $275 a week in state benefits to unemployed people -- will become one of at least two dozen states ending participation in the federal benefits program before it is slated to expire in September.

Democrats and union leaders have decried the move, but the Republican governor and his allies, including business leaders, maintain that dropping the additional unemployment funds will spur out-of-work Floridians to get back on the clock.

“Transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce,” Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Dane Eagle said last month, when the decision to forego the additional federal funds was announced.

But critics say many Floridians are still relying on the additional federal funds and urged DeSantis to reconsider his decision.

“We feel like we have no choice. We have to try, we have to try to convince the governor that this is the wrong move,” Rich Templin, legislative policy director for the Florida AFL-CIO, said during a videoconference early this month. “And whether we convince him that it’s the wrong move politically, whether we convince him that it’s the wrong move economically, or whether we convince him that it is the wrong move morally, there are a lot of people out there who need help and need saving.”

On June 1, the state also reinstated a “work search” rule that requires new unemployment claimants to apply for five jobs a week.

Meanwhile, Florida’s unemployment rate ticked up in May as people continued to slowly return to the workforce, including in the economically critical leisure and hospitality industries.

The May unemployment rate was 4.9%, up from 4.8% in April, according to a report released Friday by Eagle’s agency.

On the Suncoast, unemployment rates ranged from 4.7% i Charlotte County, 4.2% in Manatee County, and 4.1% in Sarasota and DeSoto counties,

An estimated 503,000 people qualified as unemployed in May, up from 488,000 a month earlier. The workforce grew from 10.24 million people in April to 10.31 million in May.

“What is also really important is that people are coming back into the labor force,” Department of Economic Opportunity chief economist Adrienne Johnston said. “It could cause the unemployment rate to continue to increase for a little while. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The most important thing is that people are encouraged to come back into the labor force.”

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