It’s not a closed deal, but the Biden government’s $ 1.9 trillion Pandemic Relief Act is already buried in Florida partisan policies and budget.
Congressional Democrats on Monday condemned Governor Ron DeSantis and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, for proposing to use a portion of the state-allocated federal incentive dollars to replenish the state unemployment fund instead of increasing corporate unemployment taxes.
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The dollars in question would come from the COVID-19 relief bill approved by the U.S. Senate on Saturday. However, this move includes changes that the US House, which passed its version late last month, must approve before the bill is sent to President Biden.
DeSantis and Simpson first put their idea into action last week when every Republican Congressman, including Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, vetoed the $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus pandemic stimulus package for the American rescue plan was correct.
If the money comes through, DeSantis and Simpson say, up to $ 2 billion of the $ 17.3 billion Florida is set to receive could benefit businesses.
“They would be considering a very big tax cut for companies trying to reopen in this state, which I think would be very stimulating,” Simpson said at a March 2nd press conference.
Florida companies already pay one of the lowest unemployment tax rates in the country – an average of $ 50 per employee compared to the national average of $ 277.
But while there is a right time to cut corporate taxes, it is not, said Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who currently serves as the Democratic Congressman from St. Petersburg.
“I wish this governor would understand that this is a time of empathy, a time of compassion,” he said. “It’s a rescue plan. It was aimed at hardworking Floridians to keep them busy. “
During a Zoom conference Monday, Crist, along with US Representatives Darren Soto, D-Orlando and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, all expressed their contempt for the idea of Simpson and DeSantis.
“The most obvious use of these funds is to expand Medicaid,” said Soto. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have all of the Floridians covered when they need it most. Why not just keep (unemployment taxes) the same and increase benefits? “
However, the Republican-dominated legislature has shown little appetite for expanding access to Medicaid, let alone increasing unemployment benefits. DeSantis has repeatedly said that the best way to help unemployed Floridians is to get them back to work. However, he also refused to raise the minimum wage to $ 15, which was passed as a 2020 constitutional amendment with the support of the super-majority of Florida voters.
Prior to the pandemic, Florida had the fourth best-funded unemployment trust fund in the nation, according to the independent, nonprofit agency Tax Foundation. However, that fund has dropped from $ 4.1 billion in March 2020 to $ 675 million, reports the U.S. Treasury Department.
If Florida benefits from billions of dollars in stimulus money, it would be better to raise and expand unemployment benefits to suffering Floridians without giving large corporations tax breaks, Wasserman Schultz said.
“The reflective response from Republicans is to help businesses and kid the little guy,” she said. “Just because they make sure a company can avoid an increase in unemployment taxes doesn’t mean the company is putting employees on hold.”
Florida State Representative Omari Hardy, D-Lake Worth Beach, agreed.
“I would be 100% against it,” he said. “Stimulus money should stimulate, it shouldn’t subsidize tax cuts for companies.”
Hardy said federal funds should go “straight into the pockets of workers and small business owners” and be used to keep people like first responders and teachers in place.
“Gov. DeSantis appears to be looking to use a one-time source of funding to fund a permanent tax cut for companies in the state of Florida, ”said Hardy. “This math may work this year, but it won’t work in the following fiscal years.”
However, some Democrats might be open to the ideaassuming there is give and take, perhaps an increase in unemployment benefit.
State Senator Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, said she was ready to listen to arguments from her Republican counterparts. She pointed out that in a move that surprised many, Senator Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, recently cracked down on his party and tabled a bill to raise the maximum weekly unemployment benefit from $ 275 to $ 375 – something the Democrats have fought since the dawn of the pandemic, which Republicans have been vehemently opposed to.
“At least we have a conversation,” she said about how the parties seem to open each other to their ideas. “I was afraid we wouldn’t even have that.”
Equally surprising, Taddeo said, was that Simpson was the first Republican legislature last week to publicly say he would consider raising unemployment benefits.
“I’m ready to see an increase,” Simpson said at the March 2nd press conference. “We have to seriously think about pushing that $ 275 to something higher.”
Taddeo said her biggest concern is making sure tax cuts go to those hardest hit by the pandemic, not big corporations.
“I think we have to help small businesses, but they have to be real small businesses,” she said. “The problem is that we put the employer and not the employee first. There has to be a balance. I understand businesses have problems, but it can’t be all one-sided. “
D-Hollywood MP Evan Jenne told Politico that he, too, was ready to consider using federal money to replenish the Unemployment Trust Fund.
“That might be necessary now,” he said.
The US House is expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday.