ORLANDO, Fla. — U.S. lawmakers are expected to negotiate through the weekend with the White House on aspects of a new $1 trillion economic relief package that could include an extension to federal unemployment benefits.
What You Need To Know
- Federal unemployment benefits ended July 25
- $600 weekly benefit was part of the original CARES Act
- Senate GOP considering 70% wage replacement compensation program
- RELATED: Additional Stimulus Package in the Works, But How Soon?
- UNEMPLOYMENT IN FLORIDA: Your Questions Answered
Any deal is poised to come after the expiration of $600 weekly unemployment benefits provided to Americans as part of the original multi-trillion dollar CARES Act.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that his committee chairs would present preliminary details of an agreement on Monday.
Senate Republicans are at odds over unemployment benefits, with some standing firm on not wanting to extend the $600 benefits, while others are considering a 70 percent wage replacement compensation program.
“I think we are very clear on we’re not going to pay people more to stay home than to work,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters Thursday at the White House. “So, we’re looking at something that looks like a 70 percent of the wages a person was previously earning.”
More than 3 million Floridians have applied for unemployment benefits since March 15, with many struggling to make ends meet. Receiving unemployment benefits from Florida Department of Economic Opportunity remained inconsistent.
Orange and Osceola counties have been hit especially hard economically, because of the local economy anchored by low wage tourism jobs.
Jeremy Haicken, president of Unite Here Local 737, said of just the 19,000 Walt Disney World workers his union represents, only 7,000 have returned to work.
Adding pressure to an already-overwhelmed system next week, tens of thousands of remaining furloughed Disney cast members will be forced to apply for renewed federal benefits after exhausting the allowance of 12 weeks of state benefits.
Floridians collectively will lose the added $600 weekly unemployment benefit starting Saturday, July 25. After that they will qualify for only up to $275 per week, while some will qualify for only half that.
At $275, the weekly unemployment payout amount totals less than Florida’s minimum wage.
“When the parks closed, we were all directly impacted due to it,” said Daniel Varnis.
Varnis lives with three roommates to help make ends meet; all four work for the area theme parks.
“We love our jobs, we love our company, and we want to go back to work,” Varnis said.
Like most, Varnis and his roommates have relied upon the added $600 unemployment benefits to keep current on rent and bills. Losing the added benefit, Varnis fears, will further strain their financial situation.
“We’re not going to be able to make rent, we’re not going to be able to pay for food, some of us did apply for food assistance through the state, but then those got cut off when we got approved for unemployment because we overcame the income threshhold,” Varnis said.
The impacts of the coronavirus have been sweeping, and continue to lead to further furloughs and layoffs. Rosen Resorts is among those that have announced plans to keep open only one of their eight resorts, while laying off a “significant” number of the workers by month’s end.
Adding pressure to many families is the uncertainty over whether Governor Ron DeSantis will again extend the state’s eviction moratorium or waivers on waiting weeks and work search to receive unemployment benefits.
“I just hope, honestly they don’t take my cars and that I fall behind,” said Bruce Rosen.
Rosen was initially furloughed in late March from his audio-visual job before recently being laid off. Knowing he and his wife are likely to lose the $600 weekly unemployment benefit, Rosen said he is concerned about his family being able to keep up.
“That $600 pays the bills,” Rosen said. “Without that $600 we’re going to be in trouble.”
As Senate negotiations continue, it is not likely Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) will be among those favoring extending $600 weekly benefits specifically.
In an op-ed published in April, Scott said he believed the benefit was incentivizing people to remain at home by earning more on unemployment than they do at work.
“Don’t incentivize workers to stay on government-run, taxpayer-funded programs when this crisis has ended and we need them to go back to work,” Scott wrote. “That’s not complicated.”
This week, Scott’s office told Spectrum News in a statement:
"Senator Scott will look at every option to help those that have lost their jobs during this unimaginable crisis. He also wants to make sure small businesses are supported and Congress does not create a disincentive to work by paying people more to not work than they would receive if they were back on the job.”
The office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) told Spectrum News:
“The federal government’s efforts to get unemployment benefits to those who need them will remain even after the additional $600 benefit expires. As Congress negotiates the next relief package, we need to make sure that we are not unintentionally making it more difficult to safely re-open our economy, especially in areas of the country that are making real economic progress. We also recognize that many people still need assistance. That’s the balance that Congress will need to negotiate.”
“I know I’m not the only one, everybody needs it, and it needs to go through,” Rosen said, saying that families like his are relying upon Congress extending the benefits.
Several months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, which, if it were approved by the Senate, would extend $600 weekly unemployment benefits until January 2021.