Judge backs Florida's decision to end pandemic unemployment payments early

click to enlarge Judge backs Florida's decision to end pandemic unemployment payments early
photo by Hunter Crenian/Shutterstock

A Leon County circuit judge has backed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration in a dispute about a decision last year to shut off federal unemployment money for jobless Floridians.

Judge Layne Smith issued a ruling Thursday rejecting arguments that the state improperly ended participation in June 2021 in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC, program. That program, part of COVID-19 aid, provided $300 a week in federal aid on top of the state’s maximum $275-a-week unemployment payments. The payments could have continued until September 2021, but the DeSantis administration stopped them early and said it was trying to spur people to return to the workforce.

Smith in August denied a request by 10 plaintiffs for a temporary injunction against the state, but the case continued. In granting summary judgment Thursday to the DeSantis administration, Smith said the state was not required to participate in programs, such as the additional unemployment payments, that were part of a federal stimulus law known as the CARES Act.

“Congress left it to the states to act within their policymaking discretion regarding whether and how to use the CARES Act emergency programs and benefits, including FPUC benefits,” he wrote. “To that end, the CARES Act makes participation in FPUC voluntary; states can choose to enroll and choose to withdraw at any time, so long as they terminate their participation by providing at least 30 days notice to the secretary of (the U.S. Department of) Labor.”

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