by Susan Osgood, Jacksonville Beach
I want to shed some light on what’s been happening with unemployment benefits. Oh, you can call it “re-employment” or “economic opportunity,” but let’s call it what it is. Unemployment. I lost my job last year due to COVID-related budget cuts. I filed for benefits right away, knowing that my lack of income will have a significant impact on our family’s economic health. I waited. And waited. And waited. Let me explain my experience.
You apply online. There is no one to talk with. No where to ask questions. Nothing. I kind of felt like I was staring up at the Great and Powerful Oz, hoping to get a glimpse of the person behind the curtain. That didn’t happen until months later. Day after day, week after week, I tried calling, emailing, researching. Anything that might help me get my benefits. Nothing. Only through social media contacts did I receive any assistance. Others, like me, who have somehow navigated the system to get their breadcrumbs, were eager to help me find my way. Eight months later, I received my first payment.
In addition to a very (seemingly intentional) broken reemployment assistance system, the benefits, themselves, are insufficient to live on. When the federal government acknowledged the need for additional financial support for those negatively impacted by COVID, it was a beacon of help.
But DeSantis turned down those funds, claiming that more money disincentivized people from returning to work. Apparently, he believes that we unemployed are lazy people who want to lay around all day watching TV and feeling a little “pinch” might do the trick to get us back to work. I received the maximum allowance of $275 per week (which is capped at a little over $5,000 maximum benefit). The federal money was an additional $300. Think about how far $575 per week can go. Then take away $300 for the sole reason of political grandstanding. This decision didn’t help Floridians get back to work; it has made them poorer for longer. The legislature continues to be ineffective with benefit reform. For the past two years, efforts to raise benefits to keep pace with the cost of living have been ignored; sometimes with the house and/or senate refusing to even entertain the proposed increases.
Governor DeSantis makes decisions that spit in the face of hardworking, responsible citizens while promoting his personal agenda that targets a small minority. Distraction issues such as what books are appropriate in schools and redistricting of voting sites appeal to this minority while ignoring the significant struggles of those who have become unemployed.
A review of the Governor’s “Freedom First Budget” is disheartening. A proposed 5.7 million dollars for “elections enforcement” and 25 million to renovate Miami’s Freedom tower are listed among the initiatives. Immigration, cops, and gas cuts also appear on the list. Nowhere is there any mention of funds for the unemployed citizens of Florida. How can residents experience “freedom” when they are worried about food in their stomachs and a roof over their head? I implore Governor DeSantis to consider the needs of all Floridians, or at least the majority. I implore you to consider these issues when it comes time to vote.