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Judge back DeSantis on unemployment money

TALLAHASSEE — A Leon County circuit
judge Monday upheld a decision by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration to
cut off federal unemployment money for tens of thousands of Floridians
in June, rejecting arguments that the move violated state law.

Layne Smith, in an 18-page decision, said DeSantis had the legal right
to halt $300-a-week payments to Floridians from what is known as the
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC, program. DeSantis
said stopping the payments was aimed at helping spur people to return to
the workforce.

The lawsuit,
filed on behalf of 10 people who lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic,
alleged that the federal payments should have been allowed to continue
until Sept. 6, when Congress has scheduled the FPUC program to end.
Also, the lawsuit sought retroactive payments for unemployed people to
June 26, when the federal program stopped in Florida.

Smith, whose decision Monday rejected a request for a temporary
injunction, wrote that the DeSantis administration did not violate the

“This decision belongs
solely to the state’s chief executive,” Smith wrote. “Ultimately,
Governor DeSantis’ strategy to promote reemployment by ending Florida’s
participation in the FPUC program is a political issue that the voters
can approve or reject at the ballot box.”

also wrote that issuing a temporary injunction would have little effect
at this point, with the federal program ending on Labor Day, and that
it was unclear whether retroactive payments would be possible.

the plaintiffs otherwise qualified for injunctive relief, given the
imminent expiration of the FPUC program on September 6, 2021, the entry
of a temporary injunction would be a fruitless exercise that would not
yield them any beneficial results,” Smith wrote.

federal unemployment money stemmed from the stimulus law known as the
CARES Act. Florida jobless people were able to receive $300 a week in
federal money on top of the state’s maximum $275 a week in unemployment

lawsuit was filed in July, with some plaintiffs testifying last week
that losing the federal unemployment money has made it hard for them to
pay for housing and other expenses.

for the plaintiffs alleged that the DeSantis administration violated a
state law that directs the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to
cooperate with the U.S. Department of Labor and to take actions
“through the adoption of appropriate rules, administrative methods and
standards necessary to secure for the state all advantages available
under the provisions of federal law relating to reemployment

“The governor and
DEO (the Department of Economic Opportunity) have zero discretion in
terms of whether they should accept the .. money or not,” Marie Mattox,
an attorney for the plaintiffs, argued during a hearing last week.

Daniel Nordby, an attorney for the DeSantis administration, disputed
that the state was required by law to provide the additional benefits.

agreed Monday, pointing to a part of state law that deals with a
definition of “reemployment assistance,” the state’s term for
unemployment compensation. He said that definition “does not mandate the
state’s voluntary participation in FPUC or any other federal program
that is not required by an act of Congress.”

judge also wrote that Congress allowed states to choose whether to
participate in the program and that the state Legislature did not
mandate participation.

the Florida Legislature met during its 2021 session, it did not amend
(part of state law dealing with unemployment) to mandate Florida’s
participation in CARES or any other voluntary federal unemployment
programs,” Smith wrote. “Nor did it call a special session to amend (the
part of law) after the defendants gave notice that Florida would opt
out of FPUC. Nor has it called a special session to address the issue at
any time since.”

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