TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Leon County judge ruled Monday that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity was within its rights to stop distributing extended federal unemployment benefits in June.

What You Need To Know

  •  A group of unemployed Floridians filed a lawsuit after Florida stopped distributing federal unemployment benefits in June 

  •  The plaintiffs argued that state law required the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to accept and distribute the funds

  • State officials argued that there was no state law that would force Florida to participate in a federal program

  • A Leon County judge issued a ruling Monday in favor of the state

A lawsuit had been filed in the case, asking the judge to force the state to retroactively reinstate the $300-a-week benefits. The plaintiffs — 10 unemployed Floridians suing on behalf of unemployed individuals statewide — argued that state law required the DOE to take and distribute any and all federal unemployment funds that were available. 

State officials said the benefits were stopped because they believed the extra money kept workers from seeking employment, citing thousands of new job openings in Florida. Job data from July, though, showed the unemployment rate increased slightly, but remained below the national average.

Florida is one of 26 states that has cut off the $300 weekly extended federal unemployment payments as part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.

The state argued that it could legally discontinue the federal benefits, and after hearing arguments and testimony last week from both sides, Judge Layne Smith agreed.

Writing in an 18-page ruling, Smith said the decision to opt out of the federal program "belongs solely to the state's Chief Executive." He also wrote that the "plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden to establish a likelihood of success on the merits by competent and substantial evidence."

Following Monday's ruling, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity issued the following statement: 

The court ruling issued today affirms that the State of Florida’s successful Return to Work Initiative and subsequent withdrawing participation from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program was the right decision legally and has proven to increase employment and workforce participation.

Governor DeSantis has always been a champion for working Floridians and Florida’s business community. Because of Governor DeSantis’ leadership, the economic facts have proven that the state continues to outpace the rest of the nation in economic recovery. Florida’s unemployment rate is currently at 5.1% and continues to fall below the national average for 12 consecutive months, currently at 5.4%. Florida has experienced 15 consecutive months of job growth and has gained 964,400 jobs since April 2020.

The plaintiffs are expected to appeal the ruling.