FL’s jobless still waiting for new $300 federal supplement; work-search waiver extended

Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala, at center, holding yellow sign, stands with AFL-CIO union representatives and other lawmakers at a Labor Day rally in Miami. In four sites across Florida, the union also hosted rallies, caravans and food drives for homeless and jobless people. Credit: David Beltran

Update: At 5:46 p.m. Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office announced that “eligible Floridians should anticipate receiving benefits from the LWA [Lost Wages Assistance] program this week.” The announcement says $300 payments will be issued for weeks ending Aug. 1, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15.

Florida signed up for a short-term $300 weekly federal supplement retroactive to Aug. 1, but so far, jobless workers haven’t seen the money.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says on its website that it is “working diligently to implement the necessary technology changes to ensure eligible Floridians receive the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) Program benefits as quickly as possible.”

The agency didn’t elaborate on the technology changes that are required or how long they will take. The state’s beleaguered unemployment system has long been a cause for concern as unemployed people continue to struggle.

President Trump last month authorized the new supplement in a “Lost Wages Assistance Program,” after Congress failed to come to an agreement on a new coronavirus relief package. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida up on Aug. 26.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is administering the Lost Wages program, reported Tuesday that 47 states have signed up for the temporary funds, which are derived from the nation’s disaster-response funds.

Meanwhile, the state has waived work-search requirements for the unemployed through Dec. 5, according to a Florida DEO announcement online last week.

The agency wrote that the governor “has directed DEO to continue waiving the work search and work registration requirements for claimants for an additional 90 days….Additionally, the waiting week requirement will continue to be waived through December 5, 2020.”

Before the pandemic, people drawing unemployment payments had to prove they were seeking and applying for suitable jobs every week. DEO has waived the requirement since April at the direction of the governor. DeSantis also waived the past practice of not paying an applicant for the first week after he or she applied.

Hundreds of thousands of Floridians have lost their jobs and have not found other work, according to labor statistics. They are able to get just $275 a week in state unemployment benefits. Florida has the the lowest unemployment benefits in the nation, based on the number of weeks, and the amount of the payments.

Jobless workers across the nation lost a $600 weekly federal benefit when the Coronavirus Assistance, Relief and Economic Stimulus (CARES) Act expired in late July. The new $300 supplement is half that original $600.

Commemorating Labor Day 2020 amid the most severe national unemployment since the Great Depression, AFL-CIO members and union-friendly lawmakers rallied over the weekend at sites around Florida to thank front-line workers such as nurses and teachers and to demand relief for jobless workers.

They called on lawmakers in Congress to resume negotiations on another coronavirus relief package that could include bolstering unemployment benefits.