Eleven states approved for $300 federal unemployment supplements; FL still evaluating

Dakota Ellison of Orlando has supported his family through the pandemic with help from state and federal Unemployment Insurance payments since being laid off from his job as superintendent at Adirondack Studios. Credit: YouTube Florida AFL-CIO

A federal unemployment supplement of $300 weekly has been granted for jobless people in 11 states so far, but Florida is not among them, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which is administering the funds.

A spokesman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the governor’s team is assessing whether to apply for the optional federal unemployment funds that would bolster Florida’s low-level state benefits for the unemployed.

“Florida is currently reviewing guidance issued by the [U.S.] Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management [Agency] to determine the best course of action that will preserve the state’s financial stability while providing important assistance to Floridians in need,” Press Secretary Cody McCloud wrote Wednesday in a response to Phoenix inquiries this week.

Just over 1.02 million people in Florida were jobless in June, the last monthly data available, chiefly because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to these reports from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and the U.S. Department of Labor.

First-time unemployment claims in Florida rose for the week ending Aug. 15 – to 66,322 new claims filed that week – after two weekly declines, according to the Department of Labor’s report Thursday on new filings nationwide. The report ranked Florida fifth in the nation for increases in new claims filed that week, following New Jersey, New York, Texas and Washington.

DeSantis, an attorney, said on Aug. 11 that legal questions about President Donald Trump’s executive order on unemployment need to be evaluated before Florida would sign up.

“There’s only so much you can do through executive action [rather than Congressional action],” DeSantis said then. “I want to make sure there’s no legal risk for us. If someone was to challenge this, then we’d be left on the hook.”

Florida DEO Press Secretary Paige Landrum wrote late Wednesday to acknowledge two Phoenix inquiries this week about its position on the optional federal unemployment supplement, but she said only that DEO “will respond as quickly as we can.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published this graphic of jobless rates in June around the nation. Florida, highlighted in yellow, was at 10.4 percent, one of 20 states with jobless rates of 10 percent or more. Florida ranked fifth in the nation for increases in new unemployment claims filed the week that ended Aug. 15.

Through Thursday, FEMA reported it has approved applications for the federal funds for Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah. The agency declined to disclose whether any other states have applied.

States have until Sept. 10 to apply for the funds, authorized by the president’s executive order after the $600 weekly federal supplement that sustained more than 30 million jobless Americans for four months expired at the end of July.

Federal lawmakers are fighting a partisan battle over brokering the next package of coronavirus relief. The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted in May to extend the $600 weekly supplement for months to come. The Republican-led Senate has not adopted a plan. The two chambers must reach agreement before a new relief package can be put in place.

That leaves jobless people dependent on state-level unemployment benefits, which are capped in Florida at $275 weekly. Florida’s net unemployment benefit, counting maximum weeks of eligibility and maximum weekly payments, is the lowest in the nation, according to a States Newsroom analysis.

The $300 weekly benefits would last roughly five or six weeks if all states participate in the $44 billion program, according to budget analysts quoted by the Wall Street Journal and other national media.

Florida’s jobless rate was 10.4 percent in June, with 1,021,000 people unemployed in a labor force of 9,770,000, according to Florida’s DEO and the federal Department of Labor. Updates for July are due Friday.