Tampa Bay businesses hope ending federal benefits will help labor shortage, others say it’s more complicated

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida will soon end its participation in the federal government’s supplemental unemployment benefits program, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced Monday.

The state justified the change because hundreds of thousands of jobs are remaining vacant.

For Polk County restaurant owner Joel Rodriguez told 8 On Your Side the biggest hurdle this year has become hiring enough staff.

“We always thought it was the shutdown that was really gonna cause us to close and the lack of customers,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said he has less than 70 employees working at his three Ovation Bistro & Bar Locations compared to nearly 120 before the pandemic.

“This has happened more than five or six occasions,” he said, “I’ve made an offer and I get the I’ll get back to you and I guess that’s the kind of market we’re in right now.”

For those interested in a job at Ovation Bistro can apply on their website.

The program, which provides a $300 weekly add-on to recipients of unemployment insurance, will end on June 26, according to a news release. Claimants will stop receiving the payment the week beginning June 27.

The President of the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce Katie Worthington Decker said many chamber members are relieved the state will soon stop paying out the supplemental jobless benefit from the federal government.

“It’s going to be a busy summer in Florida and so we need to be prepared for that and we need to get as many people back into the workforce as possible,” she said.

According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida has gained nearly 800,000 private-sector jobs since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are more than 450,000 online job postings throughout the state for job seekers

Unions and workers advocates argue the change isn’t going to force people back into jobs, but into food lines.

Vanessa Brito has helped thousands of Floridians navigate the state’s broken unemployment system.

“For those who are saying stay on unemployment is better than getting a job that’s completely absurd because there’s no way you can make ends meet,” she said, pointing out Florida has one of the lowest weekly benefits in the nation at a maximum of $275.

Brito said the state shouldn’t cut out that extra $300 a week so soon after reinstating the work search requirement, which had been waived since March 2020.

“At least give claimants a two week period to perform work search and officially provide those work search contacts and show DEO and show the state, hey I’m out there looking for work,” Brito said.

Workers advocates say Florida’s work requirements for unemployment are so strict, fewer than 15 percent of those out of work qualify.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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