Virus Outbreak Congress

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., attends a news conference about the coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

(The Center Square) – The $2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act expected to be approved Friday by the House could more than triple weekly unemployment payments to Floridians who cannot return to shuttered workplaces because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under the federal assistance package, the largest in the nation’s history, unemployed individuals would receive $600 a week on top of state unemployment compensation, for up to 39 weeks.

Florida unemployment compensation is capped at $275 week and expires usually at 12 weeks.

The federal boost means some newly jobless Floridians could collect $875 a week in unemployment benefits until state unemployment benefits expire at 12 weeks, and then $600 a week in federal benefits for another 27 weeks.

Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott voted in favor of the bill, but expressed “significant reservations” about parts of the massive measure, notably the federally enhanced unemployment benefits, which he described as “antithetical to everything I believe in.”

Scott sought to prevent unemployment insurance benefits from exceeding a worker’s previous salary.

“When this crisis is over, we want everyone to go back into the workforce and we should not be creating a perverse incentive not to work,” he said. “Put more simply: using taxpayer dollars to pay people more to not work than they would receive if they were back on the job is just silly. This will significantly hamper our economic recovery.”

Scott’s opposition to unemployment enhancements come as his actions as governor in spearheading a 2011-14 effort to keep business unemployment taxes low – among the nation’s lowest, 2.7 percent for the first $7,000 in annual wages paid to each worker – imposed cost-cutting restrictions on state jobless benefits and other safety net programs that millions of Floridians now will be forced to rely on.

In 2011, with Scott’s support, lawmakers refashioned the state’s unemployment assistance program, retaining the decade-old $275 weekly cap and reducing eligibility along a sliding scale from a maximum 23 weeks to a 12-week base with a formula that excluded many part-time and seasonal workers.

Florida’s unemployment rate was 2.8 percent in January, meaning under Scott’s sliding scale, the maximum unemployed Floridians can receive benefits is 12 weeks, until state statute allows an adjustment in October.

That means Florida’s 12-week limit on benefits is likely to remain in place – and those singing onto the system now could see the state components of their benefits expire before June 30.

Without the 2011-14 changes, Floridians could have received up to $7,150 over 26 weeks from the state. Afterward, no more than $3,300 over 12 weeks.

Depending on how, or if, the state adopts the new eligibility standards for federal assistance, changes in state unemployment laws and regulations between 2011-14 “could wind up costing out-of-work Floridians as much as $11,606 each,” wrote Jason Garcia and Gary Rohrer in The Orlando Sentinel, citing an April 2015 analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Scott’s successor, Gov. Ron DeSantis, has signed executive orders to make unemployment benefits available to more people and eliminated requirements that recipients prove they are looking for work. He said Tuesday that 21,000 Floridians filed claims on Monday alone.

“We’d get 200, 500, 1,000 a day for most of the time up until this point. Now we’re getting 15 to 20,000 unemployment claims a day.” DeSantis said, noting he is unsure what happens in July when benefits begin to expire.

“What’s going to happen to those people?” he asked “What’s going to happen to them if they can’t put food on the table, if they can’t pay their rent, or they can’t pay their bills, or take care of their families?”