Florida residents are suing to restore federal pandemic unemployment benefits

Ten jobless residents of Florida are suing the Sunshine State because Governor Ron DeSantis and other state leaders have ended federally approved pandemic unemployment benefits roughly two months before the funding was set to expire.

The residents argue in the lawsuit that DeSantis cut off $1,200 a month’s worth of additional unemployment dollars “for purely partisan and political purposes.” Florida is one of nine Republican-led states that stopped giving federal unemployment benefits to its residents late last month. Florida also now joins Indiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas on a list of states where residents have sued to have the cancelled unemployment dollars restored. In two states — Indiana and Maryland — judges have sided with the unemployed residents. 

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, or DEO, stopped the unemployment benefits June 26 even though Congress has authorized the money to be available for Americans made jobless during the pandemic until September 6. Lawyers representing the Florida residents said blocking the unemployment benefits robs their clients from money needed to keep their households afloat.

“Given that Florida’s unemployment compensation program pays one of the lowest benefits in the country, and is one of the shortest durations in the country, even the addition of the extra Federal payments still barely allows unemployed Floridians to pay their basic living expenses,” lawyers argued in court documents. 

The lawsuit lists out-of-work residents in Broward County as plaintiffs, all of whom say their income has suffered during the coronavirus-slammed economy. A woman who works as a paralegal said she is in danger of being evicted from her home because she can’t find a job. Another woman who is a single mother of two kids and who works as a registered nurse said her hours were cut due to the influx of COVID-19 cases at the hospital where she worked, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit doesn’t give a specific monetary amount residents are seeking in damages.

A DEO spokesperson denied Florida broke any federal law in ending the extra pandemic aid. 

“Florida businesses and employers are hiring across the state and need unemployed Floridians to return to the workforce,” the spokesperson said in the statement to CBS MoneyWatch.

Leaders in other states that have ended the unemployment benefits said they also did so in hopes of getting their residents to return more quickly to the workforce. 

All told, 26 states have ended federal unemployment before the September date. When to end the benefits has been a point of contention nationwide in recent months. Governors in those states blamed the benefits for keeping people from seeking work. In Florida, unemployed residents would normally see just $275 a week in unemployment benefits.

The Florida lawsuit surfaces just as the state is being slammed with an uptick in Delta variant cases. Hospitals across the state said they’re preparing for more to come. 

At Miami’s Jackson Health System, there’s been a 111% jump in COVID-19 patients over the last two weeks, which means most visitors will be banned. About 95% of patients with the virus who are being treated there are unvaccinated. The state of Florida accounts for nearly 20% of the nation’s new cases over the last week. 

Earlier this month, Oklahomans filed a similar lawsuit in state court arguing that Governor Kevin Stitt stopped the unemployment benefits from coming without the authority to do so. 

An Ohio lawsuit argues that the state is required to seek the maximum benefits available to its residents, the Columbus Dispatch reported

In Texas, more than 30,000 workers are suing, claiming that Governor Greg Abbott overstepped his authority in curtailing the federally funded benefits. 

It’s unclear for now how the lawsuits in those states will turn out. However, in both Maryland and Indiana, the judges hearing the suits sided with unemployed workers, ruling that unemployment benefits must continue until the lawsuits are resolved because jobless workers could suffer “irreparable harm” if they were to lose the aid until then. 

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