Crist Extends Benefits for Long-Term Unemployed
Not content to wait for lawmakers to act later this year, Gov. Charlie Crist issued an executive order on Friday that will make nearly a quarter million Floridians who have been out of work for a long time eligible for additional benefits.
Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation this week that extends federal jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for another six months.
Florida’s extended benefit program, which pays up to 20 weeks of additional jobless benefits to people who have used up their regular benefits, which typically last up to 79 weeks. But that program expired in June in Florida when lawmakers declined to extend it during the regular session, leaving the state unable to take advantage of the new federal dollars being made available to the long-term unemployed.
Florida had an unemployment rate of 11.4 percent last month. In addition to about 250,000 people who will now be eligible for extended benefits between now and December because of Crist’s executive order, about 900,000 other unemployed Floridians already were set to get additional help because of the new law approved in Washington this week.
The cost of the supplemental benefits is paid by the federal government.
Democrats in Florida had urged Crist to either call the Legislature into another special session – lawmakers were in session one day this week but didn’t address the issue – or to issue an executive order to change the law to make the extra benefits available.
“Unemployed Floridians are struggling in this challenging economic climate, trying to figure out how to pay their bills and support their families,” said Crist, an independent. “We simply cannot desert the 250,000 Floridians who qualify for the extended federal assistance signed into law yesterday.”
Crist had been unsure earlier in the week whether he could unilaterally make the change or whether the Legislature’s approval was needed. House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, said Thursday that lawmakers would probably try to address the issue when they return for a special session next month or in September.
But Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate, said Friday he had determined he had a “constitutional duty” to authorize the use of available federal funds.
Advocates for the unemployed said they were pleased the governor acted, rather than waiting for lawmakers to return. People who have been out of work for months, and without unemployment benefits since June, will not only benefit, said Karen Woodall, an advocate for the unempoyed. “It’s businesses too – because that money gets spent and put into the economy,” Woodall said.
Crist’s executive order made the benefits retroactive to June 5 when the state law expired. They’ll continue through Dec. 4.
Agency for Workforce Innovation Secretary Cynthia Lorenzo said the state still needs guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on some issues related to the newly approved benefits, but that the state should begin issuing checks within a couple weeks. The agency is mailing notices of the new eligibility dates to beneficiaries, Lorenzo said.