Help is on the way for these workers, as with jobless Americans across the nation. The $2 trillion stimulus package finally passed by the House Friday includes $600 a week in new federal unemployment insurance, payments that run through June.

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As the coronavirus ravages the U.S. economy, nobody really knows how many Floridians are losing their jobs every day. In one four-day period last week, 140,000 new unemployment claims poured in, and those are the ones who could get through. Others say they couldn’t, or lacked the right information to log in.


And some of the newly unemployed don’t even realize it themselves: They were simply told to go home and wait for a phone call that will never come.


Help is on the way for these workers, as with jobless Americans across the nation. The $2 trillion stimulus package finally passed by the House Friday includes $600 a week in new federal unemployment insurance, payments that run through June.


There’s a lot to like in the congressional action, including the fact that benefits extend to self-employed people and others who are often shut out of unemployment. But there’s also a downside for Floridians: The generous federal benefits could obscure the cruel inadequacy of Florida’s own unemployment compensation program, which is badly in need of reform.


It’s an opportunity for Gov. Ron DeSantis to step forward and shine. He should take it, and urge Florida toward a more modern, robust support net for families who have lost their income through no fault of their own.


Florida’s unemployment system is broken from the base. It’s one of only a few states that cuts off benefits after 12 weeks (most states allow 26) even for people who are demonstrably trying very hard to find work. And benefits are capped at only $275 a week – a number that hasn’t increased in two decades.


Florida has also adopted definitions of basic concepts like “worker” and “unemployed” that make it far more difficult for casual, tourism-based employees to claim benefits. And it’s thrown other obstacles in the way of those for whom those checks could be a matter of avoiding homelessness and abject poverty.


Many of those little stumbling blocks were written into the law during the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, at the urging of businesses who didn’t want higher unemployment insurance rates. But the federal bailout means that many of Florida’s biggest employers will also be getting big checks. It would be the height of hypocrisy to object to aid directed at the individual victims of what promises to be a deep recession or even depression.


In fact, expanded benefits could be one of the best forms of economic stimulus. Most of the cash distressed families receive will be spent, putting it right back into the economy. Business will benefit as well. As Florida’s tourism economy slowly cranks back up, employers will need a ready supply of reliable, eager-to-return workers. But the stark contrast in benefits could send many Floridians to other states, creating a worker shortage right when workers are needed most.


DeSantis has already waived the requirement, for now, that people out of work must be actively seeking another job. In the coming months, he should work with key lawmakers on a reform package that gives Floridians the support they need at one of the worst times of their lives.


The Daytona Beach News-Journal.