Instead of protecting emergency benefits for struggling Florida families who are out of work as a result of COVID-19, Governor Ron DeSantis cut their lifeline when they needed it most, throwing hundreds of thousands of families into financial jeopardy. Time and time again throughout this pandemic, Governor DeSantis has proven he will sacrifice Florida families and play politics with their lives and livelihoods.
Washington Post: In Florida, DeSantis cut jobless aid just as virus began terrifying new wave
By Yeganeh Torbati
August 22, 2021
By June, Meli Feliciano’s family appeared to have finally found a measure of stability after being jolted by the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic. Her husband had secured a good job in construction, and she was receiving hundreds of dollars in weekly federal and state unemployment aid, giving her some breathing room while she submitted job applications each week. She kept records of it all in a pink binder that her daughter had once used in kindergarten.
That’s when calamity struck.
Her husband fell ill, temporarily wiping out his income. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) slashed her jobless aid by more than half to $197 per week, arguing that the federal boost to unemployment insurance was keeping people like Feliciano from getting back to work. The bill for her daughter’s college tuition and textbooks is due soon, nearly $1,000 that the family doesn’t have. And just as her husband was cleared to go back to work in August, her stepson Julian tested positive for the coronavirus, requiring the household to isolate for two weeks.
“When you’re stressed as a parent, you don’t want it to show, but sometimes it shows,” said Feliciano, 42. “It’s a different issue going on every day. You just take it day by day and do the best you can.”
Feliciano and her family have been thrust squarely into a vast social, political and economic experiment that has no parallel or precedent. DeSantis and 25 other governors nationwide, all but one of them Republican, opted this spring and summer to reject extra federal aid intended for people who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus, contending that the more robust social safety net was leading to widespread labor shortages. But the coronavirus’s deadly delta variant, which has overwhelmed Florida in recent weeks, shows just how fragile the economic recovery still is. Some people, like Feliciano, can’t even envision moving forward. They are worried about losing what little they have.
“We really have no say,” she said. “The only say we have is who we get to elect for whatever position. But once they get there, they forget that entirely.”
Few political leaders have rebuffed federal economic aid and public health guidance as much as DeSantis, a presumptive 2024 presidential candidate whose political campaign sold T-shirts that read, “Don’t Fauci My Florida.” His derision of Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, and virtually any other public health expert he disagrees with has made him a conservative hero but a divisive figure in his home state, which is now leading the nation in the number of people hospitalized with covid-19.
DeSantis, also 42, has attempted to restrict mask mandates in schools and banned businesses from requiring vaccination, enraging some companies, parents, school districts, and people like Feliciano. He has trumpeted many of his policy changes in news conferences and cable news appearances while brushing aside the inevitable impact, dismissing the rising infections as a “seasonal pattern.”
But as the virus extends its grip over Florida, interviews with unemployed workers show the economy here is not as strong as the governor has suggested. And for some people, it’s only getting worse.
But many Floridians said there are complicated realities behind those headline figures. People from all walks of life said they are still struggling to find work, stymied by a lack of child care, the new wave of covid infections and some employers who seem uninterested in hiring older workers or those without a college degree.
The unfolding situation in Florida and other mostly GOP-led states that cut off extra aid early is a taste of what may be in store soon for the rest of the country when federal benefits expire for millions next month, even as more than 8 million people remain jobless.
As Republican governors across the country, including DeSantis, cut off federal aid this summer, they contended that it was dissuading people from going back to work. Dane Eagle, executive director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, said the decision would “help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce.”
But labor experts and economists say the evidence that has emerged thus far contradicts the assertions of Republican leaders.
States that ended the extra benefits early saw employment decline by 5.6 percent, while in states that did not end the benefits early, employment declined by 4.3 percent, said Adam Beasley, manager of data products at Homebase.
“An abrupt stop in that assistance really does not benefit families. It does not in any way force people back into the workforce,” said Cindy Huddleston, a senior policy analyst at the Florida Policy Institute. “And it has the effect of pushing people into poverty and feeling hopeless with no end in sight to the pandemic.”
A few miles south of Dunedin, outside an employment office in Clearwater this month, workers described a range of obstacles to finding a job. Morg DeJesus, a 31-year-old single mother of two, said she lost her job at a local factory last month when a covid-19 outbreak forced it to close.
St. Petersburg resident John Surprenant, 63, lost his position at a large retailer in February. He estimates that he has applied for 40 to 50 jobs since then, while he tries to get by on a little over $100 a week in state unemployment benefits in addition to his Social Security check.
“I get no response,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because of my age or what.”
He had been receiving the extra $300 each week before DeSantis cut it off in June, and that money was helping him get by.
“Now I have to sit home, watch my meals. Like I don’t eat breakfast, I’ll have a light lunch and then have a good dinner,” Surprenant said. “I don’t know why the governor is doing all this.”
Deiondrick Roberts, 32, estimates he has applied to between 200 and 300 positions since he lost his job in June. He is trained as a digital user experience and interface designer, and said he is finding those positions in short supply.
“I know there are jobs being created but it depends on what type of jobs are being created,” he said. “That kind of adds to the frustration and competitiveness of trying to get a job.”
Roberts receives around $575 every two weeks in state unemployment benefits. That’s not enough to pay his bills, so his family and roommate have stepped in to help in the meantime, help he is not accustomed to needing.
“I’ve never been the type of person to ask others for assistance,” he said.
Some out-of-work Floridians have banded together to sue DeSantis in an effort to win back the federal benefits. They are buoyed by the recent success of such efforts in other states, including Arkansas and Maryland.