CLEARWATER, Fla. — Before the pandemic, Eileen Lymus-Sanders worked on the water, performing aboard ships of a major cruise line.
Now she’s just trying to keep her head above water.
“There have been times in the past I’ve been without work for a short amount of time,” said Lymus-Sanders, who has been laid off since mid-March.
“But there was never a time I felt that I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel—this is that time.”
Being an independent contractor, the 53-year-old receives just $125 each week from the state of Florida. The extra $600 from the federal CARES Act, she says, has been critical.
“It is making it possible to pay my mortgage, my car insurance, my cell phone, the basic things,” Lymus-Sanders said. “There are a lot of my bills, though, that are two, three months behind.”
Lymus-Sanders is one of hundreds of thousands of Floridians for whom federal unemployment payments have been a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The payments are set to expire July 25, unless Congress acts.
A recent report from independent think tank Century Foundation estimates 1.2 million Floridians will be losing the $600 weekly payment, amounting to $700 million in lost money a week for Florida families and the economy.
Several state Democratic lawmakers sat in on a virtual town hall Tuesday with unemployed Floridians.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said they’ve sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation pleading to pass an extension of the payments. So far, the extension has only passed in the House.
Eskamani condemned the state’s Republican senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio for being silent on the issue.
“It’s pretty shameful,” Eskamani said. “They’ve been so quiet on their advocacy to the point where other senators have talked more about Florida than Florida senators.”
On Monday, 10 Tampa Bay reached out to Scott and Rubio's offices about what they're going to do to continue this benefit.
Scott's office responded with this statement: "Senator Rick 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."
A second request to Rubio’s office on Tuesday again received no response.
If Congress fails to act, Eskamani said, the state should step up and increase benefits.
Florida has some of the stingiest unemployment benefits in the country, maxing out at $275 per week, the second-worst in the country only ahead of Tennessee.
Asked during a Tuesday news conference whether Congress should extend the $600 payments, Gov. Ron DeSantis dodged the question.
“You know, I haven’t been following what they’re doing,” DeSantis told reporters.
He did acknowledge some Floridians might not have the option to return to their job.
“I think people should understand that it’s not necessarily just a question of whether you want to work or not, it’s a question of whether all the jobs are going to be there,” DeSantis said.
The governor’s office did not respond to a follow-up email from 10 Tampa Bay asking for clarification.
President Donald Trump, who first pointed out he was against the original decision to issue supplemental payments, signaled Tuesday evening he would be in favor of extending them but at a lesser amount.
“We want to have people go back and want to go back to work as opposed to being forced into a position where they’re making more money than they expected to make,” Trump told reporters during a press briefing at the White House.
Lymus-Sanders said she’d be happy to go back to work if she could.
“Of course I’m making less now than what I was making at my job,” she said. We want to go back to work, but some people like me have nothing to go back to.”
An online petition calling on Congress to extend payments through the end of the year has more than 1.5 million signatures.
If you have not received all of the $600 benefits you are owed, you are still entitled to that money.
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