FEMA promises 6 weeks extra unemployment aid, but Floridians likely won’t qualify

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — FEMA announced Thursday that millions of out-of-work Americans are guaranteed six weeks of financial aid through the Lost Wages Assistance program.

However, Floridians are likely excluded from that as the state does not currently meet criteria set by FEMA for LWA funds. With a 12-week limit and a $275 weekly cap, Florida pays out considerably less than most states in unemployment benefits.

LWA provides $300 a week in FEMA disaster funds for those unemployed by the pandemic. States had the option to contribute $100 each week, but many states – including Florida – opted out.

This week, many out-of-work Floridians received $900, or three weeks worth. The LWA program, authorized by presidential executive order in August, backdates benefits to Aug. 1.

However, to continue receiving funds, FEMA says at least 25 percent of all unemployment benefits paid out in Florida must come from state coffers. The latest data from the US Department of Labor shows less than 19 percent of Floridians collecting unemployment are receiving state money.

That’s because with Florida only offering 12 weeks of state compensation, the majority of people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic have exhausted those benefits. Most are only receiving PUA or PEUC benefits, federal funds allocated in the CARES Act that are disbursed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Unless Florida can cough up roughly $50 million dollars to make up the difference, the state will lose out on $240 million in benefits a week.

“If we offered state-funded benefits for a longer period of time, then we would probably qualify,” explained community activist Vanessa Brito, who has advocated on behalf of Florida’s jobless for months. For comparison, most states offer upwards of 20 weeks, plus extended benefits.

State Senator Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, broke the news on Facebook Live Thursday night that Florida will likely miss out on the remainder of the LWA program.

“I’m sure you guys are going to have a lot of questions,” Pizzo said. “You should be pissed off!”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday it’s possible Florida may manage to qualify for a fourth week of LWA but that it’s highly unlikely from there on out. As a potential stimulus package keeps stalling out in the Senate, it’s unclear if or when additional help for the jobless may come.

“We’re talking about up to 800,000 of you that desperately need this unemployment,” Pizzo said on Facebook Live.

When asked who’s at fault, Brito said she believes former governor Rick Scott is ultimately to blame. Florida slashed benefits from 26 weeks down to 12 under Scott’s administration.

Current governor Ron DeSantis can fix this, however, advocates say. Brito and Pizzo both suggest temporarily extending state benefits so that more Floridians can qualify, bringing Florida’s participation up to that 25% threshold.

“His political livelihood depends on what happens next,” Brito said.

8 On Your Side reached out to Gov. DeSantis’ office, but they have not stated if he plans to take action.

In response to criticism over unemployment, Sen. Rick Scott’s office sent us the following statement:

“Senator Scott has always been focused on creating jobs for all families – with the understanding that a good job provides families with the opportunity to live the American dream. Throughout his time as Governor, Florida businesses created nearly 1.7 million jobs.

Senator Scott’s focus throughout the coronavirus is on how to directly help families and businesses that have been impacted, and he is disappointed the Democrats’ blocked another relief package this week. The best way to help people right now is to get the economy re-opened, support businesses by cutting taxes and regulations, protect Americans from the threat of Communist China, and ensure there is ample testing and Personal Protective Equipment across the country.”

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