Ron DeSantis Sued Over Florida's Early End to Federal Unemployment Benefits

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is being sued over Florida's early end to participation in the federal government's enhanced unemployment benefits program.

Florida is among a number of Republican-led states to prematurely withdraw from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, part of the CARES Act that was signed into law in 2020.

The program, which gave an extra $300 per week in benefits to the unemployed during the pandemic, is set to end in September—but DeSantis announced in May that Florida would end its participation effective June 26. DeSantis has said that withdrawing from the program would "incentivize people to go back to work."

Now, a lawsuit has been filed by plaintiffs in Florida's Broward County, alleging that the withdrawal of federal benefits was for "purely partisan and political purposes."

The lawsuit, obtained by Newsweek, also lists the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and its director, Dane Eagle, as defendants.

It claims that the plaintiffs and other needy residents will be unable to cover their basic living expenses without the federal benefits. The lawsuit notes that Florida's unemployment benefits—a maximum of $275 a week for 12 weeks—is among the lowest in the nation and for one of the shortest durations.

"Even the addition of the extra federal payments still barely allows unemployed Floridians to pay their basic living expenses," the lawsuit adds.

By terminating Florida's participation in the program early, the defendants "are violating their clear legal and statutory duty to secure such benefits for employees" in the state, the lawsuit adds.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction and a continuation of the federal unemployment benefits.

Benefits for Basic Living Expenses

The lawsuit's aim is to obtain "the $400 million in FPUC payments owed to the people of Florida, pursuant to the American Rescue Plan, which were cut off prior to the expiration date of September 6 by Governor DeSantis for purely political and partisan purposes," Scott Behren, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said in a statement to Newsweek.

"The unemployed of Florida need these benefits to pay basic living expenses such as rent, utilities, food and medicine."

Florida is one of 26 states that put an early end to federal unemployment benefits. The data shows there was no clear sign that it led to significantly more hiring and that job gains in both groups of states were roughly the same, Reuters reported.

State-level data shows that an additional 174,000 people joined the labor force in the 26 states that stopped benefits early, compared with 47,000 in the other states, according to the report.

However, it noted that while the figures may indicate the withdrawal of benefits was causing more people to seek work, the numbers are minuscule considering the national labor force consists of 161 million people.

A spokesperson for DeSantis directed Newsweek to the DEO for comment.

"The Department has received the lawsuit and will respond accordingly; however, the Department contests the alleged violation of law," the DEO spokesperson said.

Florida Gov Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis takes part in a roundtable discussion about the uprising in Cuba at the American Museum of the Cuba Diaspora on July 13 in Miami. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Update 7/27/21 at 3.43 a.m. This article has been updated with a comment from a DEO spokesperson.