A Leon County court will soon rule whether to compel Florida to restore federal unemployment benefits, but Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state has recovered economically from the pandemic.
Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith is expected to announce his ruling by Monday in a lawsuit to restore $300 in weekly federal unemployment compensation after the DeSantis administration stopped participating in the program.
Florida is one of 26 states that dropped their participation early, arguing it was discouraging people from returning to work.
DeSantis told reporters the state’s attorneys will point to the number of available jobs in Florida. More than 400,000 jobs are now available. The Florida Chamber of Commerce says the state has already recovered 950,000 of the 1.3 million jobs lost last year, when the pandemic brought the world economy to a halt.
“If you go around, almost everyone wants to hire in some way or some form,” DeSantis said. “And so the need to have elongated unemployment and all that is not where it was back then because we have so many opportunities.”
Many businesses are offering signing bonuses, he continued. Fast food restaurants are struggling to fill jobs, and some restaurants close one or two days a week because of staffing shortages.
Moreover, the Governor said there have been up to $20 billion in fraudulent claims filed to Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the state unemployment program.
“They are being … inundated with fraudulent claims,” DeSantis said. “This has become a major cottage industry.”
In June, DEO withdrew from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. That program provides jobless Americans with $300 in assistance each week on top of state assistance.
Florida’s maximum state assistance is $275 per week, one of the smallest amounts in the nation.
The state unemployment portal crashed last year in the opening months of the pandemic under the crunch of hundreds of thousands of applicants.