Florida seeks to boost unemployment benefits $300 a week

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is applying to participate in a federal unemployment assistance program so people currently receiving at least $100 in benefits can be eligible for another $300 a week.

The Lost Wages Assistance Program was created by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump earlier this month. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is authorized to spend up to $44 billion in disaster relief money for unemployment benefits.

“We actually do have an application, it’s being sent today. I spoke to the secretary of labor, I think it will be favorably approved, so then we’ll be able to then turn around and offer the enhanced benefit,” DeSantis said at a news conference Wednesday in Orlando. “So that will happen.”

Once approved, benefits will be retroactive to Aug. 1. Benefits are eligible to people who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

John Brenner, an unemployed hotel manager, said he was relieved at the state’s decision, adding the extra $300 nearly covers his rent. Florida’s unemployment is capped at $275 a week.

“I can now give my landlord a proper timeline,” he said. “But I do wish our governor would take the situation more seriously. He has to understand the tourism industry isn’t coming back in the near future and for so many of us, that’s our career. We’re a huge part of this state.”

Brenner’s hotel eliminated his position after the virus outbreak decimated the tourism industry. The 38-year-old from Plantation, Florida, has been out of work for five months and has several possibilities, but none of them are hiring yet.

Florida has had massive problems with its online unemployment application program, so much so DeSantis ordered an investigation into the company hired to create it. His office said in a news release that the Department of Economic Opportunity is already preparing its system to make sure benefits are paid out as soon as possible.

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Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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