TAMPA BAY, Fla. — As of this past May, there are over 502,000 people unemployed in the state of Florida, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
Unemployment benefits have helped many Floridians stay afloat during the pandemic. But recently, Florida chose to opt out of the $300 weekly federal benefit.
Two employment lawyers in the state filed a lawsuit against the state to get these Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payments back for the unemployed.
The lawsuit was filed on July 25.
The benefits were set to expire September 6, 2021, but Florida pulled away early on June 26. It's not the only state to do so either — 25 other states with Republican governors have decided not to continue the benefits for their unemployed. Many believe the unemployment benefits have contributed to employees not wanting to go back to work, leaving employers unable to fill vacant positions.
“Employers have said since we made that change, there’s some that said they had more applications in the last three weeks than they had in months," Governor Ron DeSantis said on Monday, July 12, during a press conference.
With the removal of the benefits, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates Florida is now out $418,694,400, with the decision impacting some 116,304 people, according to a breakdown of data by The Century Foundation. It's quite significant for a thesis that has been debunked by five different studies conducted last year. The Vice-Chair of the United States Joint Economic Committee dove into these studies, finding that unemployment benefits are not having any impact on the labor market's recovery.
Indeed also released data from their database that shows not every state that cut off those benefits early has seen more job search activity, which the site says it would expect, "if overly generous federal [unemployment insurance] benefits were holding back job seekers."
"It's really irrelevant, it takes everybody’s eye off the ball. The flat fact is that the federal government administered federal funds for unemployment benefits," Gautier Kitchen, a trial lawyer on the lawsuit, said.
Gautier Kitchen and Scott Behren are both employment lawyers in Florida who say the FPUC benefits must be paid by law.
“There is a statutory obligation on the Florida DEO to cooperate with the federal government and get all possible benefits available from the federal government to the residents of the state of Florida," Behren said.
Kitchen has fought for the unemployed since last year when he was co-lead counsel on a lawsuit against DEO and Deloitte, the company behind CONNECT. He says if Governor DeSantis really wants to get people back to work, he needs to consider their hardships brought on by the pandemic.
“What about people whose cars were repossessed and they can’t get a job because they don’t have transportation, and don’t have enough money to ride the bus to get a job? Or lost their Wi-Fi so they can’t apply for a job?" Kitchen said.
Vanessa Brito is a community activist that has helped people navigate the faulty CONNECT system for a year and a half. She says that seniors are telling her they can’t get any offers.
"I have all of these interviews and I never get a callback. I even have seniors reaching out to me saying, 'Hey can you proofread my résumé because there’s got to be something wrong' or 'I’m not getting callbacks.'”
They also say parents are struggling to pay for childcare, resulting in them having to stay home with their kids, something that has also been backed by recent data.
According to a survey conducted by Morning Consult, the number one reason unemployed people turned down job offers was due to child care obligations.
"Cutting off these benefits at the beginning of the summer, which is the hardest time to locate child care, is far more damaging to families than if they were to continue until September when schools open," Andrew Stettner wrote in a breakdown by The Century Foundation.
Two states, Indiana and Maryland, have been successful in getting the benefits back through their own lawsuits. Ohio and Texas are currently undergoing similar battles.
ABC Action News previously reached out to Governor DeSantis for comment on the lawsuit. His office responded back that they cannot comment on a lawsuit that they have not yet been served. They also highlighted the Morning Consult article, where they say the third reason unemployed people turned down job offers was because they received enough money from unemployment insurance without having to work. However, it's important to acknowledge that the Morning Consult chief economist John Leer "cautions against concluding that this completely validates calls to cut unemployment benefits early."