TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Questions remained Wednesday about when extended unemployment benefits from a newly signed federal stimulus package will be available for Floridians out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state’s jobs agency had not posted a timetable about the extended benefits, and no formal announcement had been made about whether Floridians will be covered for the current week because of when the $900 billion federal package was signed.
The Department of Economic Opportunity, already anticipating unemployment payments to be delayed two to three days because of banks closing for the New Year’s holiday, said that while it is "working diligently on these additional benefits," it must first get direction from the U.S. Department of Labor.
"With the recent signing of federal COVID-19 relief, DEO (the department) has begun implementing revisions and updates for eligible Floridians seeking reemployment assistance and awaits the required guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor," Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Dane Eagle said in a statement Tuesday. "Our number one priority continues to be ensuring that all eligible Floridians are paid as quickly as possible, and we look forward to assisting Floridians navigate the new program extensions as they become available."
The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs technically lapsed Saturday, a day before President Donald Trump signed the legislation to extend the programs as part of the latest stimulus effort.
The U.S. Department of Labor said Tuesday the timing shouldn’t create a gap in payments.
"As states are implementing these new provisions as quickly as possible, the department does not anticipate that eligible claimants will miss a week of benefits due to the timing of the law’s enactment," the federal agency said in a news release.
The package Trump signed is slated to provide $300 in federal benefits for each week a currently eligible claimant receives unemployment assistance. The federal assistance will run through March 13. People who become unemployed early in 2021 would be able to draw the additional benefits through April 5.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said in a tweet Wednesday that Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to provide more specifics about the unemployment extension, as "folks are flooding our phones, emails, & DMs w/similar questions & we're doing our best to answer but Governor could disseminate this info in seconds if he wanted to."
With Florida’s leisure and hospitality industries expected to continue to struggle deep into 2021, the state had a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in November, reflecting 651,000 Floridians qualified as unemployed.
Since mid-March, the state has received more than 5 million unemployment applications, with $19.76 billion in benefits going out to 2.16 million claimants as of Tuesday. The federal government has been responsible for nearly $16 billion of the money, largely because Congress passed a stimulus package in the spring that boosted benefits.
Trump’s signing of the new federal package Sunday appears to have reversed plans by Southwest Airlines to impose company-wide furloughs that were expected to affect 66 aircraft maintenance technicians and nine ground-service equipment technicians in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa next month.
Dallas-based Southwest CEO Gary Kelly on Monday advised employees the furloughs and pay cuts are being halted as the economic relief package extends what is known as the Payroll Support Program for the airline industry.
"The new law will provide payroll support for all Southwest Employees through March 31, 2021," Kelly wrote to employees. "Given this, we currently do not anticipate the need to conduct any furloughs or pay cuts next year."
Separately, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday started to directly deposit into Americans’ bank accounts stimulus payments that are part of the package, with paper checks going into the mail on Wednesday.
The stimulus payments, up to $600 per adult and $600 per child, will follow the process used in the spring when the federal CARES Act authorized up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.
"This second round of payments will provide critical economic support to those who, through no fault of their own, have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic," the Treasury Department said in a news release.
Individuals making up to $75,000, or couples that jointly earn up to $150,000, will be eligible for the full payments, with the process expected to be completed by Jan. 15.