Out-of-work Americans in Florida filed a lawsuit against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday seeking to reinstate a pandemic relief program that paid out an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits.
In a complaint filed late Sunday on behalf of 10 unemployed Floridians, three attorneys – Gautier Kitchen, Marie Mattox and Scott Behren – argued that DeSantis, as well as the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and its director Dane Eagle, violated their "clear legal and statutory duty to secure such benefits for employees" by prematurely ending the benefits.
The attorneys are requesting an emergency injunction to force Florida to reinstate the $300 a week benefit until the case is decided, as well as provide four weeks of retroactive benefits.
"The unemployed of Florida need these benefits to pay basic living expenses such as rent, utilities, food and medicine," the suit said.
Florida is one of 26 states – nearly all of which are led by Republican governors – that decided to prematurely end one of three federal unemployment programs that provided out-of-work Americans with an extra $300 a week, on top of their regular state benefits, and extended eligibility for contract workers as well as those who had exhausted their regular state benefits.
Unemployed residents in Indiana, Texas and Maryland also filed lawsuits against their respective states for the early termination of the program. State judges in Indiana and Maryland ruled the states must continue paying out the money to its jobless residents.
The programs, which Congress created in March 2020 and voted twice to extend, are not slated to expire until Sept. 6, 2021. Roughly 4 million people will lose their jobless aid as a result of the new policies, according to one estimate from the left-leaning Century Foundation.
GOP lawmakers have blamed the extra unemployment aid for anemic job growth in April and May, although economists have also cited a lack of child care and fears of contracting COVID-19 for the hiring shortage.
Unemployment benefits in the state currently max out at $275 a week. With the federal supplement, Americans are receiving a maximum of $605 in weekly unemployment benefits. (For comparison's sake, that's about $31,500 annually, or roughly $16 an hour).
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.
Still, Biden has emphasized that the unemployment benefits will end in September as planned, despite momentum among some of his party's members to make the extra money permanent.
"It’s going to expire in 90 days," Biden said recently. "That makes sense."
There remain about 6.8 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 5%, represents about 523,500 jobless Americans out of a workforce of about 9.8 million, according to the Labor Department.