ORLANDO, Fla. — A lawsuit challenging Florida's end to the $300 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation extended unemployment payments could be filed as early as next week.

What You Need To Know

  • A lawsuit is expected to be filed over Florida's stoppage of federal pandemic unemployment aid

  • The groups that intend to sue include lawyers and unemployment advocate Vanessa Brito

  • One woman tells Spectrum News that she's still owed $10,000 in federal unemployment payments

  • BEYOND THE SOUNDBITE PODCAST: Out of work: Fixing Florida's unemployment system

A lawsuit is expected to be filed in a state court in South Florida.

Lawyers and advocates tell Spectrum News they are still organizing specific legal strategy and fundraising but intend to pursue similar legal challenges as those seen in Oklahoma, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland and Texas.

Judges in some of those cases have ordered states to restart distributing the weekly extended federal benefits pending the outcome of litigation.

Those involved in the Florida effort include unemployment lawyers Marie Mattox, Gautier Kitchen and Scott Behren, all of whom led lawsuits against Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in 2020 due to dysfunction in the state's unemployment benefits system.

“We are in the process of drafting the language and compiling a substantive list of plaintiffs,” said Vanessa Brito, a Florida unemployment advocate who is working on the efforts with the lawyers. “We are also establishing a crowd fund in order to cover attorney and court fees since there is no direct payout should the courts rule in our favor.”

Preparation for the lawsuit remains preliminary, although people interested in potentially joining the lawsuit are encouraged to email 2MillionStrongFLA@gmail.com with their full name and county of residence.

DEO delays, job-hunt woes push woman into debt

Since the run-up to the COVID19 pandemic, complaints about Florida’s unemployment system have been rampant.

“The system was never supposed to work,” Kitchen argued in 2020 when suing DEO on behalf of Floridians having trouble with the system.

In recent months, complaints continue to pour in over DEO call centers being unreachable and the agency’s website malfunctioning.

“It makes you feel hopeless, it makes you feel like nobody is there to talk to, nobody is there to listen,” Cindy Masser said.

The Orlando resident estimates she is still owed more than $10,000 in federal unemployment benefits.

Masser moved to the city to live with her son last summer when she was laid off from her call center job in Louisiana. She eventually found a temporary job that lasted a few months but was laid off again.

She’s now spent months waiting for DEO to adjust her claim so she can begin receiving federal benefits, which she would qualify for.

As she waits, debt continues to grow: financial debt, emotional debt, and physical debt from stress.

“They’re putting us in a place we don’t want to be,” Masser said.

The former restaurant manager said simply finding a new job has also proved to be easier said than done.

“I did apply for Burger King and I’m overqualified; they won’t hire me,” Masser said, laughing. “They told me I was overqualified because I’ve done management. It’s on my resume.”

Masser said she has been turned down for low-wage jobs at Burger King, McDonald’s, even a greeter position at Walmart.

“How can you be overqualified if you’re willing to do it?” Masser asked. She said she was told, “What’s going to happen is you’re going to end up taking this job and then find a job you’re better suited for, and you’re going to leave us and go there.”

At 61 years old, Masser said she fears applying for hundreds of jobs only proves she is being passed over for younger candidates.

“Personally, I’ll go flip burgers, but the problem is at my age, I’m not as quick as these younger kids are anymore,” Masser said.

Those with similar experience as Masser say what they’re begging of employers is to simply give them a chance.

Masser said she is going to keep plugging away, trying to find a new job to help support herself, but she's hoping DEO will fix its glitches so she can start to get a footing to move forward.