For those still struggling after losing their jobs during the pandemic, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program, also known as FPUC, was a lifeline. So when the extra $300 in federal unemployment benefits ended in Florida on June 26, many were left scrambling for options.
“Most people now are getting $125 a week,” said Vanessa Brito, a self-described activist.
Brito has spent the past year helping people navigate Florida’s unemployment system.
“I felt like it was my responsibility to help,” she said. “I’m glad I did.”
Responding to every consumer complaint
She’s now focused on the effort to help bring FPUC back to Florida.
“This was kind of the last step, the last push to get people what they deserve,” she said.
In a newly filed lawsuit, 10 plaintiffs – all from Broward County – are asking the court to reinstate the $300 benefit right away.
“We’re going to be seeking emergency injunctive relief,” said Scott Behren, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs, according to the complaint, include a single mother of two children who lost her job as a NICU nurse because of the pandemic and a senior “…who has been actively searching for work and can’t find any.”
Their backgrounds are varied, but the plaintiffs are united by the hardship they’re now facing after the FPUC benefit ended early.
“These people need the benefits now,” Behren said.
The attorneys representing the plaintiffs said the state’s decision to stop participating in the federal program early was a violation of Florida law.
“Florida statute 443.171 is not ambiguous. It’s not cloudy. It has no discretion,” Attorney Gautier Kitchen said. “It says ‘shall,’ those are the magic words in law … This statute says ‘shall.’ They shall accept the federal funds.”
So far, over two dozen states have opted out of the federal program before its Sept. 6 expiration date.
Workers in some of those states have filed similar lawsuits.
Behren said he hopes to have a hearing on the case filed in South Florida very soon.
In a statement, the Florida Department of Economic opportunity said, “The Department has received the lawsuit and will respond accordingly; however, the Department contests the alleged violation of law.”
The statement went on to say, the state’s withdrawal of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation was in compliance with Department of Labor policies and was part of Florida’s ‘Return to Work’ initiative - focused on encouraging Floridians to “return to the workforce, helping employers attract job seekers, and continuing to fuel the state’s economic growth.”
The statement also cited “positive, record-breaking economic factors,” as a reason to withdraw from the programs, including more than 907,900 added jobs since the height of the pandemic.
When asked about the lawsuit, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said they endorse the DEO’s statement.