The Senate is still pushing for Florida to increase its weekly unemployment benefits by $100 despite opposition from the House and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The House on Monday rejected language to raise benefits to $375 per week. And on Friday, the Governor said the current level of unemployment benefits “is fine.”
Yet Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, on Wednesday told reporters he hasn’t given up hope on the matter.
“I do not believe the unemployment issue is off the table completely,” Simpson said.
A bill to potentially raise the payment from $275 to $375 weekly and extend eligibility to 14 weeks is on the move (SB 1906) in the Senate. However, that bill was postponed when it was slated for the Senate to consider it Wednesday.
Democrats, led by Reps. Anna V. Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith, on Tuesday attempted to amend a bill in the House regarding the Department of Economic Opportunity to increase benefits to $375 and lengthen benefits to 23 weeks. However, the Republican-led House voted those measures down.
That followed the Governor’s dismissal during a Friday press conference.
“Our unemployment is what it is. It’s fine,” DeSantis said. “We’ve paid out $26 billion over the last year, That’s got to be more than the previous 10 or 20 years combined.”
The Senate President remained undaunted.
“We appropriate and the Governor decides to veto or not,” Simpson said.
He also insisted increasing unemployment benefits is a genuine priority.
“If we were in a position to, where we at some point cannot address it, it’s not that we’re going to quit working on the issue. We will come back next year smarter in how to get it done,” Simpson said.
Lawmakers are in the process of hammering out the budget this week. One solution could be to put language for the increase into the budget bill text.
Another of Simpson’s priorities that remains unsettled is a plan to increase state employee minimum wages to $13 an hour, in advance of the state’s minimum wage increasing to $15 an hour in 2026. The Senate budget makes room for the increase with a $43 million item.
Simpson told reporters it’s important to him to get ahead of the constitutionally required pay raise. It will cost the state $270 million to raise wages for state employees. That doesn’t count employees who work for state contractors, meaning it would cost the state between $500 million to $750 million to fully implement the measure voters approved in November.
“Those things are very important,” Simpson said of the pay raise and unemployment benefits. “Negotiations are ongoing, so we’re going to let the process work. Let’s see where we end up on that.”
The Senate President also defended the online sales tax plan, which DeSantis signed into law late Monday. That dedicates revenue raised through sales tax dollars collected from online sales to restocking the unemployment trust fund, avoiding a tax increase on businesses.
Democrats have characterized the measure as a tax raise on consumers to give a tax break to business owners. But Simpson says reducing the per-employee burden on businesses will allow them to employ more workers.
“I believe that three months from now our unemployment will be well under 4% in the of the state of Florida, and by the end of the year we’ll be back to pre-pandemic levels,” Simpson said.
While the House is holding out so far on the Senate’s workforce proposals, the Senate agreed to several of House Speaker Chris Sprowls‘ job growth priorities during a budget conference meeting earlier Wednesday.