Lawmaker, business owner respond to state ending federal unemployment payments

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced Monday that starting June 26 the state will no longer participate in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. 

State and business officials have argued that, when added to state unemployment payments, the $300 a week in federal aid is keeping people from returning to jobs.

After a report Friday showed that an estimated 487,000 Floridians were unemployed in April out of a workforce of 10.24 million, the Department of Economic Opportunity called Monday’s move "another key step to returning more Floridians to work," dubbing it the "Return to Work" initiative.

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"Now we’re transitioning from kind of relief in the midst of a crisis to now having the more traditional reemployment outlook," said Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

State Representative Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said she was disappointed to hear the news.  She tweeted earlier Monday that ending the federal assistance is a "terrible idea that feeds into Florida's already broken unemployment system."  She said though many places in the service industry are hiring, the workforce is diverse. 

"The folks that are still on unemployment today face very unique barriers, whether it’s ageism, whether they’re not qualified for jobs that are open right now, whether they need a job that pays more money to pay their bills on time," she told FOX 35 News.

Gaff’s Meat and Specialty Foods in DeLand is one business that has struggled to fill positions. Owner Brian Gaffka said he noticed a slow down about three months ago.

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"Had up a few Facebook posts, reached out, we’ll get a little bit of response but it’s definitely been on the slower side," he said. 

The family-owned butcher shop decided to raise its minimum wage after getting feedback from employees. 

"I want to hire people, and make it so that they can live a normal life without having to work two jobs," said Gaffka.

Since March 15, 2020, the start of the pandemic, the state has paid out more than $28.3 billion to 2.37 million unemployment claimants. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program has accounted for nearly $17.3 billion of the money distributed, while the state program has accounted for more than $5.9 billion.

Watch FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.