DeSantis wants feds to OK jobless aid, ease travel limits
By Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
Gov. Ron DeSantis wants Congress to approve more unemployment relief and for the federal government to ease coronavirus travel restrictions from Europe and Brazil.
DeSantis blamed federal policies related to trying to curb the spread of COVID-19 for many people losing jobs and said Washington should have “done a relief package months ago.” He made the comments during an appearance last Monday in Central Florida, where theme parks and other tourism businesses have been hit hard economically during the pandemic.
“The theme parks were never shut down by the state of Florida. They did it because of what these federal experts were saying to do,” DeSantis said. “So, I think that unemployment really is on the federal government, because I think they’re the ones that caused it. They should do relief. Hopefully they’ll do it over the next month or two.”
DeSantis also repeated a call from October for the federal government to ease some international travel restrictions.
“One of the things we can do to help Central Florida is, and I think the president wants to do this, let’s get travel from Brazil back, let’s get travel from the European countries back,” DeSantis said. “The travel restrictions at the front end of a pandemic I think made sense. I advocated in January for the China restrictions. Now, in fact, people had already spread it (COVID-19) from China by January. We did some stuff (travel restrictions) with New York because they were spreading it around the country. But at this point, it’s an endemic virus. To have these types of travel restrictions is not getting you any benefit, and I think it’s causing a lot of people harm.”
DeSantis made the comments a day before a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers last Tuesday outlined a $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal. That package would include $180 billion to cover 18 weeks of individual unemployment checks worth $300 and $288 billion for the small business Paycheck Protection Program.
The package also would offer short-term federal protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits, an issue Florida lawmakers are discussing for the 2021 legislative session.
DeSantis’ comments Monday came as Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody separately called for Congress to extend a Dec. 30 deadline for state and local governments to use existing CARES Act money. Congress and President Donald Trump approved the massive CARES Act package in the spring to provide financial stimulus during the pandemic, but they have been unable for months to reach agreement on additional aid.
Florida’s economically critical theme-park industry has shed — or plans to shed — thousands of jobs.
SeaWorld and Universal Orlando reopened in mid-June, while Disney reopened its Florida parks in July, with each of the parks having capacity limits.
Disney first announced in September that it would make year-end layoffs. The company’s head of parks, Josh D’Amaro, advised employees the reasons were the prolonged closures at the company’s California-based theme parks and the limited attendance at opened facilities, which also included facilities in Paris, Shanghai, Japan and Hong Kong.
More than 18,000 of Disney’s pending 28,000 U.S.-based layoffs are slated to occur in Florida, of which up to 6,700 — impacting non-union workers — started last Friday, according to letters provided to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. Most of the remaining Florida layoffs are set to be made New Year’s Eve.
Last month, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios parks were increasing capacity from 25 percent to 35 percent, but there was no accompanying announcement about changes in the pending layoffs.
Restrictions on international travel have severely affected the parks, with overseas visitors to Florida totaling 464,000 across the second and third quarters of this year, down from 2.65 million during the same period of 2019, according to the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida.
With a few exceptions, the federal government has placed restrictions on travelers who during the previous 14 days have been in China, Iran, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil and European countries in what is known as the Schengen Area, such as Germany, France and Italy, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said last Tuesday she’d rather see Congress focus on unemployment benefits and small business relief before international travel.
“The governor wants international visitors to come to Florida, but visitors won’t come if they don’t feel safe, which is why Florida should also consider mask mandates and other CDC safety policies that have been proven to help stop the spread of COVID19,” Eskamani said.
When DeSantis first called for easing travel restrictions, he pointed to advances in rapid testing for COVID-19 and airline cleaning protocols. At the time, DeSantis also suggested the testing could be used to help the cruise ship industry, which was under a “no sail” order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The federal agency in late October replaced the “no sail” order with a 40-page framework for the cruise ship industry to resume operations. However, even with the conditional order, passenger cruise operations may not begin until February or March, and even then in a limited capacity.