Florida opts out of $300 federal unemployment benefit to push people back to workforce

Florida is now one of 26 states to end pandemic unemployment benefits early. Over the weekend, federal payments of $300 a week expired for Floridians.

Meanwhile, employers across Tampa Bay have had a hard time filling open positions.

Anna Maria Oyster Bar has four locations in Manatee County and owner John Horne tells us they are down at least 10 people at each restaurant.

"I've got one of my restaurants that I have not had an applicant for the kitchen in two months. No one's walked in the door looking for a job for two months," said Horne. "We're using Indeed we're using Facebook, we're using all the different, Craigslist, you name it. We're trying to get people in to come back and work."

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On June 26, Florida cut off extra $300 weekly unemployment payments through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program. The state made the decision to opt out of that additional benefit as part of its "Return to Work" initiative, a move Horne hopes will bring more workers through his doors.

"Over the last week, we have seen an uptick in applicants," he said.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, 503,000 people remain jobless in the Sunshine State, while more than 510,000 jobs are available.

"People can go to work now. It's safe to get back into work. It's safe to get back into hotels, restaurants, to travel. Let's all get back to work and let's take care of the people in our area," said Horne.

The checks will not end for another few weeks. Organizations in the region say people depend on that $300.

"So we’ll expect more folks coming into our care because they'll have less money in their household budget to pay for the items that they need," said Feeding Tampa Bay President and CEO, Thomas Mantz.

He says it takes families a long time to rebuild after the economic challenges they have faced for the last 18 months.

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Feeding Tampa Bay knew this program was ending and they are prepared to help.

"Most families that we serve are living paycheck to paycheck and week to week.  So any loss or gain of income is really noticeable really quickly. So we're already gearing up to make sure that we have more for the coming weeks," Mantz said.

Other Federal unemployment programs like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation will still be available here in Florida until September.