UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS | FLORIDA LAWSUIT

Unemployment benefits lawsuit in Florida: what's the situation ahead of September?

A Florida judge is expected to give their ruling over the unemployment lawsuit which could force the state to continue making benefit payments through September 4th

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Unemployment benefits lawsuit in Florida: what's the situation ahead of September?
OCTAVIO JONES REUTERS

Unemployed workers in Florida have followed those in other states, including Indiana, Maryland, and Texas, by filing a class-action lawsuit to reinstate federal unemployment benefits.

The lawsuit was filed in late July and targets various officials and agencies including, Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), and DEO executive director Dane Eagle.

The suit was filed with the name of ten unemployed workers; however, as a class-action lawsuit, the decision would impact all workers whose benefits have been terminated. One of the plaintiffs' lawyers has estimated this could be a group of as many as 150,000 people.

Why was the lawsuit filed?

Those filing the suit stated that “Each of the Plaintiffs have suffered economic hardships because of COVID, have had difficulty finding work and now, with the discontinuation of the FPUC, face even more pressing financial hardships.”

They state that these impacts are tied to an illegal decision by the state government to discontinue federal unemployment programs before their official deadline in September. Gov. Ron DeSantis had cut ties with the federal government to fund these programs in early June

After filing, the DEO stated that they had reviewed the case, “contests the alleged violation of law.”

This week, several plaintiffs testified in court, detailing how the termination of the federal programs had impacted them. 

Gia Cuccaro, who has worked as a paralegal for more than thirty years, spoke about how she now faces eviction. In her testimony, on the verge of tears, she told the judge, “I’m petrified I’m going to be evicted from my apartment,” she continued saying that her mother and daughter, who have both since passed, lived with her in the apartment.

For Ms. Cuccaro, the federal benefits did not wildly change her economic situation, but they allowed her to make ends meet and “keep a roof over my head.”

Will the benefits be reinstated? 

The judge in the case, Judge Layne Smith, is expected to give her decision on Friday 27 August.

If she rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the state will be required to continue making the payments. However, the programs from which the payments are made will end on 6 September.

Retroactive payments

In June, the DEO terminated its agreement with the US Department of Labor. For the state, this means that they would be under no obligation to pay claimants for the weeks they missed payments.

This position was made clear in the testimony of DEO Chief Financial Officer William Currie, who said it would be "impossible" for the DEO to make retroactive payments.

What does the September deadline mean for the case?

The attorneys representing the plaintiffs, and the more than 150,000 people who the decision could impact, argue otherwise, saying retroactive payments would form part of the settlement.

Additionally, the state could use funds passed under the American Rescue Plan to cover the costs of the retroactive payments. Last week members of Presidnet Biden’s administration urged state leaders to use the federal funds to continue paying unemployment benefits in places where unemployment rates are still high.