The large jump in inflation — more than 8%, the highest in more than 40 years — has been a consistent theme for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has raised it at nearly every public event over the last 12 months, blaming it on President Joe Biden’s policies and Congress’ spending.
State lawmakers have passed a one-month gas tax moratorium to start in October, and set up a $1 billion fund to pay for increased expenses due to inflation. And state regulators overseen by DeSantis have approved rate hikes for insurance and utilities as energy prices have gone up. But DeSantis hasn’t budged in his opposition to increasing Florida’s unemployment benefits, which remain at a maximum of $275 per week.
Only Mississippi ($235), Arizona ($240) and Louisiana ($247) have a lower maximum weekly payment.
Massachusetts has the highest at $873; the nationwide average is $475.
DeSantis has highlighted inflation’s effect on gas prices, on property insurance rates that are skyrocketing as well as rising utility rates, and slammed Biden for contributing to a de facto tax on middle-class Americans paying more for groceries, gas and other essential items.
“One of the things I’ve been really concerned about over the last year, 15 months, is the inflation,” DeSantis said while passing out infrastructure grants in the Panhandle at an event last week. “If you look at what it costs for all the different food staples, gasoline, if you look at construction costs … we need some different policies out of Washington. You can’t keep inflating.”
DeSantis said in April 2021 he was “fine” with unemployment benefits staying at $275, despite a push by Senate Republicans that year to increase it to $375. DeSantis, though, originally expressed surprise that benefits were as low as $275 per week when he was first asked about it at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
A spokeswoman for DeSantis didn’t return an email this week seeking comment.
Florida’s unemployment system was subsequently inundated with claims as businesses throughout the state shut down as the pandemic hit. Thousands of residents went weeks and months without being paid because the system was overwhelmed.
Democrats called for a Special Session and pushed for an increase in weekly benefits to $575, but were rebuffed by Republicans. Lawmakers did approve a plan to put more money into the system to prevent future backlogs. But although Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, sought a more modest increase to $375, House leaders didn’t accept the plan during the 2021 Session and the issue wasn’t discussed during this year’s Session.
The last time Florida’s benefit amount was adjusted was in 1998, when the $275 cap was set. The same amount in today’s dollars would be $485.
Any increase in the amount of benefits, though, would trigger an increase in the tax businesses pay into Florida’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which pays the benefits — something Republicans have stood against.