Florida became the latest Republican state to announce that it will opt out of a federal program that boosted unemployment benefits by $300 a week amid a growing debate about whether the sweetened aid is deterring Americans from returning to work.
The Department of Economic Opportunity announced Monday that Florida will stop participating in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program – which provided an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits – beginning June 27.
Florida will continue to participate in two separate programs that provide jobless benefits to gig workers and others typically not eligible for benefits and extend state unemployment benefits once they have been exhausted.
"Transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce," DEO executive director Dane Eagle said in a statement.
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming have also said they will drop out of the program this summer.
The new measures come in light of the Labor Department's April payroll report, which revealed the economy added just 266,000 jobs last month – sharply missing the 1 million forecast by Refinitiv economists. GOP lawmakers were quick to blame the extra unemployment aid for the lackluster job growth, although experts have also cited a lack of child care and fears of contracting COVID-19 for the hiring shortage.
There remain about 8.2 million fewer jobs than there were in February 2020, before the pandemic shut down broad swaths of the nation's economy. Florida's unemployment rate, at 4.8%, represents about 487,000 jobless Americans out of a workforce of roughly 10 million.
The average state unemployment benefit is about $330 per week. With the federal supplement, Americans are receiving about $630 in weekly unemployment benefits. (For comparison's sake, that's about $32,000 annually, or roughly double the nation's minimum wage.)
Without the federal supplement, out-of-work Floridians can only receive a maximum of $275 per week in aid, among the lowest benefits in the country.
President Biden and Democrats have rejected the notion that Americans are choosing to stay home and collect the extra unemployment benefits – part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law passed in March – rather than returning to work.
"We don't see much evidence of that," Biden told reporters during a White House press conference two weeks ago. "Americans want to work."
But even as he maintained that his administration would not "turn our backs on our fellow Americans," Biden pledged to enforce unemployment insurance laws so that no American can "game the system" to get paid not to work.
"We’re going to make it clear to anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job they must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits," Biden said.