TALLAHASSEE — A Leon County district judge on Wednesday looked into a lawsuit over whether Governor Ron DeSantis’s government violated state law by cutting federal unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of unemployed Floridians in June.
Judge Layne Smith heard testimony from plaintiffs who said the decision to end the $ 300 a week in federal benefits resulted in them having difficulty paying housing and other expenses. As part of the COVID-19 aid, the federal government provided the money in addition to the state’s maximum unemployment benefits of $ 275 per week.
The DeSantis government stopped the additional federal benefits on Jan.
The lawsuit alleges that payments should have continued through September 6, as approved by Congress, and that the unemployed should receive retroactive payments through June 26. The money comes from a federal funding law commonly known as the CARES law.
Plaintiffs attorneys say the DeSantis government has violated a state law directing the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to work with the US Department of Labor and take action “by adopting appropriate rules, administrative methods, and standards that are necessary for the state ”. all advantages according to the federal regulations on re-employment (unemployment) assistance. “
“The governor and the DEO (the Department of Economic Opportunity) have no discretion as to whether or not to accept the money,” said Marie Mattox, plaintiff’s attorney.
However, Daniel Nordby, an attorney for the DeSantis administration, denies the state needs to provide the additional services.
“Florida law quite simply does not require participation in the CARES Act programs that were passed by Congress,” Nordby said. “Neither federal nor Florida law requires participation.”
Smith, who is contemplating plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction, said repeatedly that he would not address the political issues surrounding the suspension of federal payments. He said he needed to focus on the details of state and federal laws.
“The bottom line is it’s a legal construction case,” said Smith.
The judge said he was likely to give a verdict on Friday. However, he added that he expects his decision to be appealed.
Plaintiffs, who testified on Wednesday, described economic troubles during the pandemic, made worse by the state cutting $ 300 a week in federal payments.
For example, Harriett Rubin, a 68-year-old Broward County resident who has been unemployed since the pandemic began, said she put a tax lien on her home because she couldn’t pay property taxes.
“To worry about your apartment or whether your air conditioning is on and working, and can I bring some food into the house. That little bit of money helps, ”said Rubin.
Will Currie, chief financial officer of the Department of Economic Opportunity, testified that in the spring of 2020, the state began providing the additional federal benefits – known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation or FPUC benefits – to offer assistance on how the pandemic caused major economic benefits Problems and an increase in unemployment.
But the state decided to stop the services that summer as vacancies remained unfilled. Many companies have argued in recent months that they cannot find enough workers.
“The idea was to add the weekly benefit that was believed to be
Incentivizing people not to return to work, ”Currie said.
But Mattox said the people who need the extra money aren’t “free riders” who don’t want to be hired.
“DeSantis decided to cut those benefits because he said it was keeping people from going back to work,” Mattox said. “Research just doesn’t confirm that.”