Florida jobless lose in court: Judge rules for Gov. DeSantis rejecting extra federal money
At stake: More than $400 million in benefits for about 500,000 Floridians.
A Tallahassee-based judge on Monday ruled that Gov. Ron DeSantis has the authority to block additional federal unemployment benefits to jobless Floridians.
Circuit Judge Layne Smith denied a request for a temporary injunction on DeSantis’ decision in June to have Florida withdraw from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program.
FPUC, which runs through Sept. 6, provides an additional $300 in weekly benefits. Florida is among 26 states not to accept the additional federal program money for their unemployed residents.
A group of 10 unemployed workers had argued the state’s reemployment assistance law required the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to accept the money and distribute it to the unemployed.
Their attorneys estimated more than $400 million in benefits for about 500,000 Floridians is at stake.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business filed a brief supporting DeSantis. They argued the public interest was served by DeSantis’ decision because it encouraged “Floridians to return to work, which will ease the labor shortage and stimulate Florida’s economic recovery.”
Smith found that the workers’ case failed to clear two important hurdles:
First, it never established whether it was possible for federal benefits to be awarded retroactively.
And second, he wrote, state law leaves it solely to the governor whether to supplement Florida's weekly unemployment benefits (a $275 maximum) with federal money.
“Ultimately, Gov. DeSantis' strategy to promote reemployment by ending Florida’s participation in the FPUC program is a political issue that the voters can approve or reject at the ballot box,” Smith said in his ruling.
Attorneys for the workers were unavailable for comment Monday evening, but an appeal is likely.
“I’m conscious of the fact whatever I rule, even if you love it or hate it, the District Court of Appeal (may) think differently,” Smith said after the opposing attorneys had delivered their closing arguments.
Smith, formerly a Leon County judge, was elevated to the circuit bench by DeSantis last year to replace now-retired Circuit Judge James C. Hankinson.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
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