As a dire portrait of joblessness emerges in the state, Florida Democrats in the Senate are demanding, again, that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican leaders convene a special session of the Legislature.
“The Legislature has sat on the sidelines of this emergency for too long. … I’m not comfortable in the least with continuing to allow Gov. DeSantis to act unilaterally,” Sen. Lori Berman, of Palm Beach County, said in a videoconference.
“We need a special session so we can advocate for those in our districts who don’t have a voice,” Berman continued. “We need to lead where the governor and Republican leadership have failed. The only reason they haven’t called a special session is because they know the policies have failed our state.”
The demand for legislative action comes as joblessness increased in July and the COVID-19 infections and deaths have continued to rise.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced that unemployment in July was at 11.3 percent, compared with 10.4 percent for the month of June – raising the number of jobless people in Florida by 121,500.
The Florida Department of Health on Friday reported 593,286 COVID-19 infections and a death toll of 10,168 for Florida residents.
Florida ranks second of all 50 states in the number of infections, and it’s also the second-highest rate of infections, meaning the number of infections per 100,000, according to a New York Times analysis.
As to deaths, Florida ranks 5th of the 50 states in the number of deaths, but 15th in the rate of deaths, according to the Times.
Sen Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami-Dade and Sen. Gary Farmer of Broward County, said Republican leaders have been making crucial decisions in private, and that a special session is necessary to allow elected lawmakers from all parties to address problems with unemployment payments, safe elections, safe schooling, pending evictions, failures of small businesses, COVID testing, workplace safety and more.
“We are the Senate Democratic Caucus. We have a job to do as well,” Farmer said. “They don’t want to do this [a special session] before an election. They don’t want to give a platform for the questions that we’re asking and highlight the fact that they don’t have answers.”
Meanwhile, jobless workers no longer have a $600 federal supplement to bolster low-level state unemployment benefits. That $600 supplement ended at the end of July.
A new round of limited federal funds authorized by presidential executive order would allow at least $300 to supplement state unemployment benefits, but Farmer said President Trump is using the offer as “a political ploy” intended to affect the presidential election in November.
Still, Farmer said Florida should apply for the supplemental funds if no other source of unemployment funds are extended to Floridians “because the alternative is unacceptable.”
DeSantis’ office has said he has not decided whether to apply for the funds. A total of 12 states have enrolled in the program as of Friday.