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Lawsuit alleges ending federal benefits early broke Florida law

'There's nobody hiring me,' plaintiff Gia Cuccaro says
Posted at 7:51 AM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-27 07:51:27-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A group of Floridians has filed suit against the governor and Department of Economic Opportunity to get federal unemployment boosts restored to the state's jobless.

Attorneys representing the 10 Broward County residents said Monday that cutting those $300 weekly payments in late June violated a section of state code related to unemployment aid.

They argue Florida Statutes 443.031 and 443.171 require state officials to cooperate fully with U.S. Labor Department programs.

"It's basically directing the state to say, 'Yeah, you need to, to the extent the feds want to provide benefits to your residents, you need to cooperate with the feds and provide those benefits,'" said Scott Behren with the Behren Law Firm.

Behren, Gautier Kitchen and Marie Mattox said their effort, filed Sunday in the 17th Judicial Circuit for Broward County, is modeled after similar lawsuits in Maryland and Indiana.

Scott Behren, Behren Law Firm
Scott Behren is one of three attorneys handling the lawsuit.

Judges in those states recently ordered the payments restored.

"I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel here," Behren said. "If it's successful in other jurisdictions, and they have the same or substantially similar statute, then I think we should follow the plan of success."

Behren was hopeful the legal process would move quickly enough to restore payments before a scheduled expiration on Sept. 6. If not, he said the group is also seeking retroactive reimbursement.

Gia Cuccaro is one of the plaintiffs in the case. She said the boosts were keeping her afloat as she struggled to find a job and make ends meet.

Gia Cuccaro
Gia Cuccaro is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state of Florida.

"There's nobody hiring me," Cuccaro said. "I'm a 52-year-old paralegal, and it's very difficult to find someone that would hire me. The answers I receive -- overqualified, overqualified."

Without that supplemental aid from the CARES Act, she was left with Florida's maximum unemployment pay of $275 every seven days. It's one of the lowest rates in the nation.

"You know, on the 31st of December, the eviction moratorium is up," Cuccaro said. "So, that is my biggest fear right now, not to have a roof over my head."

DEO responded to the legal challenge late Monday afternoon.

"The Department has received the lawsuit and will respond accordingly; however, the department contests the alleged violation of law," officials said in a statement.

Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the withdraw earlier this month. The Republican leader said ending the boosts would help "desperate" employers facing a hiring shortage.

"Employers have said since we made that change, some said that they had more applications in three weeks than the previous three months," DeSantis said.

In a recent call with reporters, state economists said it was too soon to tell if cutting the payments was having a major impact on hiring.

More than 20 other states have joined Florida in dropping from the boost program early, all controlled by the GOP.