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Florida Start Up Hopes to Make Recovering Unclaimed Property Easier

September 1st, 2020 by Jake Stofan

There’s over $60 billion spread across the country and some of it may be owed to you.

A Florida based start up company is hoping to make it easier than ever for you to track down and recover unclaimed property owed to you anywhere in the nation.

One of every four Americans has some money being held by a government that is rightfully owed to them, but searching all 50 state vaults would be time consuming, not to mention it can often be expensive to prove the money belongs to you.

“Every state had their own kind of paperwork process. Some states are more technologically advanced. Florida does a decent job at it,” said Chris Pompovitch, Co-Founder of ClaimFound.

Gainesville-based start up company ClaimFound.com hopes to centralize the process and make it easier for you to get back what you’re owed.

“You shouldn’t have to go to 50 different state websites. You should sign up with ClaimFound and never think about unclaimed money again. We’ll monitor your name and immediately alert you,” said Pompovitch.

Brandon Eagleston is one of the first to benefit.

He tracked down and recovered $160 through the site, after unsuccessfully trying to get the money through the state’s official site.

“It was a great time because I was starting a new career path into real estate. So the 160 actually helped me with the application fees and it’s helped me jump start this new career path,” said Eagleston.

Right now claim found is only operating in Florida, but ultimately the goal is to centralize all $60 billion worth of unclaimed property on the website.

The platform is free to use, but there are premium features that can help users recover more complicated claims.

“But that is purely optional and you can go through the process completely free on your own,” said Pompovitch

And the site also allows you to help out friends and neighbors who might have money out there.

You can visualize all of the unclaimed property on a map to see where the money is owed.

Just last year alone, Florida returned $323 million in unclaimed property.

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Eviction Moratorium Extended Again

September 1st, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda
Thousands of evictions are in the pipeline, but another 11h hour extension of the moratorium will keep people in their homes until the end of the month.

As the clocked ticked on the expiration of the eviction moratorium Monday morning, we asked the Governor if it would be extended.
“You’ll get news on that very soon,” said Governor DeSantis.
At 8:45 Monday night, with just over three hours remaining, evictions were postponed until October first.
“They destroyed the landlords,” said landlord Arik Lev.
Arik Lev owns eleven units in South Florida.
He said three simply refused to pay rent.
“That’s the way they told me. Some kind of instruction. I don’t know what better words to use in english, but oh, Governor says we don’t have to pay rent,” said Lev.
Thousands of eviction notices were filed in August, after the Governor limited it to just people impacted by COVID-19.
Prior to then, it applied to all evictions.
Once the Governor limited the protections. the Florida Apartment Association reported more tenants were willing to work out their past due rents.
“Which means housing providers likely prevent over 40,000 eviction filings statewide,” said Amanda Gill with the Florida Apartment Association.
The problem isn’t going away.
More than 300,000 unique unemployment claims were filed in August.
“And unfortunately, these eviction restrictions just kick the can down the road. They don’t help that individual get out of that financial hole that they are in at this time,” said Gill.
Both Arik and the Apartment Association want more help for landlords.
If your looking for help making rent, the Apartment Association reccomends checking to  see if some of the $250 million set aside from the CARES Act for rent assistance is still available from your local government.

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Governor to Parents: Schools are Safe

August 31st, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis made three stops in Florida today, assuring parents and educators that opening classrooms poses far less risks than keeping them closed. 

As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the Governor says he is also committed to making sure parents know which schools have outbreaks.

Last week the state briefly published a report showing 900 K-12 teachers and students had tested positive for Covid.

At a roundtable designed to assure parents that sending kids back to the class was safe, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran called the numbers:

“It’s a diminimus amount. Less than one percent of one percent.”

The report was up just a day. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees called its release

“It was a draft report that we are working on, It still needs some modification” said the state’s top Doctor.

And when we asked the Governor, he said raw numbers aren’t important…its who is sick.

“How many of those positive tests were actually…how many of those people are ill. Were any of them ill? How many of them? How many of them are symptomatic? I think that needs to be in there” says DeSantis.

As the final ten districts opened, just under sixty percent of kids are in classroom learning.  The other four in ten are learning virtually.”  

Michele Gregory has a six and ten year old who are back in the classroom on the first day of school.

“I’ve never seen children get dressed faster in my life. Or move quicker than they were to get back to brick and mortar schools” said the working mother,.

“There is no need for fear at this point” says Dr. Scott Atlas,  a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He said kids faced more harm at home than in school.

“I mean there were over two hundred thousand cases that were estimated child abuse that were not picked up because the schools were closed” said Atlas.

And the overall final message of the day is that if teachers or students don’t feel well, or have symptoms

“Please don’t go to school” cautioned the Surgeon General.

The states most recent Pediatric case report was published August 26th. It showed 6,167 kids seventeen and under had tested positive for the Coronavirus since schools opened August tenth.

DEO Bomb Threat VO

Employees at the state Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency that processes unemployment claims, were evacuated around ten-thirty this morning after a bomb threat. A half hour later, the threat was cleared and employees returned inside. A spokesperson says anyone who wanted to work from home for the rest of the day were allowed to do so. The building is located across the street from the State Capitol building. 

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Lawsuit to Block Governor’s Supreme Court Pick Not Over Yet

August 28th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

In an unusual ruling the Florida Supreme Court said the Governor and Judicial Nominating Commission overstepped their authority by choosing an unqualified candidate to serve on the state’s highest court.

The court decided not to block the appointment, at least for now.

Prior to 2019, Florida’s Supreme Court had at least one black justice for four straight decades.

In May, the Governor picked Jamaican-American Renatha Francis to serve as justice, but her appointment is in question.

“She never should have been appointed,” said State Representative Geraldine Thompson.

Thompson sued to block the appointment because Francis hasn’t been a member of the Florida Bar for the required ten years.

“We should not have unqualified, ineligible individuals on the highest court,” said Thompson.

Thompson asked the State Supreme Court to require the JNC to produce a new list of candidates for the Governor to choose from, in hopes another black justice could be appointed.

In an odd ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed the Governor and JNC were wrong to consider Francis.

“The court clearly recognized… that the governor’s office exceeded, or did not comply, with the applicable protocols,” said FSU law professor Mark Schlakman.

While the court said it couldn’t require a new list of candidates to be created, it did explain the correct remedy for Thompson to seek.

She’d have to ask for the Governor to pick from the existing list, which includes no black candidates.

“I want diversity. I also believe in meritocracy, where we all advanced based on our merits and we don’t play by the same rules,” said Thompson.

Thompson does intend to file a revised complaint before the Monday deadline, all but guaranteeing Francis’ appointment will be blocked.

Francis will reach her ten year bar membership mark on September 24th.

It is unclear if there still exists a pathway for her to keep her appointment at this time.

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Union Seeks to Block State From Lifting Classroom Reopening Ruling

August 28th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

More legal maneuvering in the teachers verse DeSantis classroom reopening case transpired Friday.

Late Thursday, the Governor filed a motion at the First District Court of Appeal, seeking to reimpose a stay in the case.

The Florida Education Association filed its response Friday morning.

Attorney Ron Meyer said because the First DCA doesn’t rehear evidence, the appellate court must rely on what was presented in trial court and included in the circuit court’s order.

“If the facts that were found by the trial court are supported by record evidence, and they clearly are in this case, those facts are entitled to great weight. We feel relatively optimistic that the appellate court is going to leave the injunction in full force and effect and protect the school children and the school staff in the schools in Florida,” said Meyer.

The appellate court could rule as early as Friday.

The one thing both sides agree on: The First DCA should automatically bump the case up to the Florida Supreme Court, which would eventually get the case anyway.

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Presidential Campaigns Spending Big to Win Florida

August 27th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Once again both the Democrat and Republican Presidential campaigns have Florida in their crosshairs and consider the state a must win if they hope for victory in November.

Both campaigns are spending big in the state and doing what they can to put Florida in the spotlight.

As a swing state holding 29 electoral votes, it’s no surprise both Biden and Trump have their sights set on Florida.

President Trump beat Hillary Clinton by more than 110,000 votes in 2016.

When Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012 he won the state by 74,000 votes, down from his 236,000 vote advantage over John McCain in 2008.

During night two of the RNC current and former Florida leaders were front and center.

“Together let’s ensure four more years for President Donald J. Trump,” said Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez.

Biden’s team has set aside $39 million for tv spots in the sunshine state.

“We are taking no voter for granted, from Pensacola to Miami,” said Biden for President Florida press secretary Kevin Munoz.

At $60 million, Trump’s team has set aside even more, but Co-Chair of the National Republican Party Thomas Hicks Jr. told us television isn’t the only strategy.

“In 2016 you saw the best digital campaign in history. Now you’re going to combine that with the strongest ground game in history,” said Hicks.

Between the two camps $137 million has already been spent in Florida, breaking $133 million spent in 2016.

When it comes to the message the campaigns are sending, Biden’s team said it wants Floridians to know his plan for combating the pandemic.

“A national testing program that ensures that everyone can have testing and we can go back to things in a way that’s safe,” said Munoz.

Team Trump is leaning on support for the military, law and order and the economy.

“The President built the biggest economy we’ve ever seen and he’s the right man to rebuild it,” said Hicks.

And one thing the Trump campaign has this election cycle compared to 2016 is a record.

It’s a record that will be interpreted by both campaigns to their advantage.

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FSU Police Arrest Seven at House Party

August 26th, 2020 by Jake Stofan
From one end of the state to the other, university presidents are dealing with fraternities not obeying rules put in place to reduce infections. 
 
Seven men were arrested by FSU police for holding a large off campus house party, and two fraternities were suspended in Southwest Florida for similar conduct.

The FSU party was in the former ATO fraternity house just two blocks from the FSU police headquarters. 
 
Seven men were all charged with violating the state’s open house party law for providing alcohol to people underage. 
 
Four others were charged with underage drinking.
“Large crowd. Definitely resembled a party. Obviously that’s really what it was,” said Lieutenant John Baker with the FSU Police Department.
The arrests began when police noticed several underage women leaving the premises with cups or cans in their hand.
“Once they observed that and arrests were made on those four individuals, they went into the house to stop the party,” said Baker.
The FSU Police report said masks were few and far between at the party and social distancing was not existent. 
 
FSU is expected to take student disciplinary action against all involved. 
 
FSU President John Thrasher sent a campus-wide email that said he was gravely concerned.
“So we’ve talked to the students and we want them to understand that this is very serious,” said Baker.
While at the fraternity house, three emerged from a house two doors down and engaged us.
“We’re doing all right,” said one of the students.
 
We asked if they wanted to discuss the party.
“We weren’t there, I don’t know about that,” the student replied.
FSU Police were wearing body cameras when they entered the house.
We’ve made a public records request for the video.
Hundreds of miles to the South, two Florida Gulf Coast University fraternities were suspended, also holding house parties over the weekend.
“Everybody’s got to be in this together if we’re going to keep FGCU operating,” said university president Dr. Michael Martin.
The ATO fraternity was suspended for five years in August over allegations of hazing and other offenses last spring. 

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Some Physical Contact to Be Permitted at Longterm Care Facilities

August 26th, 2020 by Jake Stofan
Starting soon residents at longterm care facilities will once again be able to feel the touch of a limited number of their loved ones. 
 
The task force creating the rules around reopening longterm care facilities agreed to the exception despite significant hesitation from the State Surgeon General.

Mary Daniel on the Governor’s task force has a husband with Alzheimer’s.
“He’s not coming out of there, but I’m losing the very best time with him. Today is his best day,” said Daniels.
She took up a job as a dishwasher at her husband’s longterm care facility so she could see him in person.

She strongly objected to visitors not being allowed to touch their loved ones.

“I as a dishwasher, can touch my husband but when I’m his wife I can’t,” said Daniels.
But State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said close contact comes with a significant risk.
“We really need to be sure that unless it’s essential to reach that six foot barrier that we keep this, otherwise we’re going to have individuals who are getting COVID,” said Rivkees.
Ultimately, the task force determined general visitors must maintain social distancing, but agreed residents’ designated essential care workers, who could already bathe, clothe and feed residents, should be allowed to provide emotional support as well.
In the end, the Surgeon General agreed with the change, but cautioned none of the 30 other states that have plans to reopen longterm care facilities allow close contact for emotional support.
“I’m going to keep coming back to this, you know this is not an innocent virus and this distancing is important to the best that we can do in these special circumstances,” said Rivkees.
According to the latest plan, each resident will be allowed to designate five general visitors, who must social distance and wear a face mask.
They’ll also be allowed to designate two essential care workers, who will be allowed physical contact as long as they wear the same level of PPE required for staff members.
For general visitation to be permitted, a facility must go 14 days without a new COVID-19 case in staff or residents. 
The plan is subject to change going forward.

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Trump Campaign Reaches Out to Black Voters in Florida Capital

August 26th, 2020 by Jake Stofan
The lone Black Republican in the running to represent Florida in the US House Representatives was in the state’s capital city Wednesday afternoon, advocating re-election of President Donald Trump to black voters.
Byron Donalds, who currently serves in the Florida House, highlighted Trump’s signing of the First Step Act criminal justice reforms.
He also criticized Joe Biden’s support for the 1994 Crime Bill, which disproportionately impacted African Americans.
Donalds also took issue with comments Biden has made in a recent interviews, in which he suggested black voters are a political monolith.
“In my family there’s a rainbow, if you will, on the spectrum from being quite liberal to quite conservative. I mean obviously I’m on the quite conservative side. That being said, we all have our own independent thoughts and I think what Joe Biden tried to do was to put all black people into a box, and that’s just not indicative of the community. What he said was wrong, it was stupid and we are going to hold him accountable for that in this election,” said Donalds.
Black Floridians make up 13 percent of the state’s voter base and in a state where elections are often decided by less than one percent, a slight waiver in one direction could determine the outcome.

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Despite Ruling, Classroom Openings in Legal Limbo

August 25th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

After a judge threw out the requirement that brick and mortar schools must be open by August 31st, legal advice being given to districts across the state is to move cautiously after an appeal automatically put the ruling on hold.

However, the teachers union is going back to court to keep the order in effect.

The final nine school districts are scheduled to open classrooms next Monday.

Those districts and those already open are hearing from parents.

“Board members are hearing this morning, more than anything, they’re hearing from families that say, hey, we’ve made plans. We’re expecting to go back to school next week. Please don’t change this on us again,” said Andrea Messina, Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association.

Attorneys for the Florida Education Association has filed a motion before the original judge.

“So, what we’re asking the judge initially to do, is vacate the automatic stay,” said FEA attorney Ron Meyer.

In his order returning opening decisions to local districts, Judge Charles Dodson found teachers, districts and the pubic faced irreparable harm.

“And we believe that judgement will be to vacate the automatic stay while the litigation plays out and protect the children of Florida,” said Meyer.

Lifting the stay will give local districts legal cover to change their start date.

Cobb Middle School in the state’s capital city isn’t assigning lockers this year.

The idea is to cut down on congestion in the hallway.

But teachers are still nervous.

“Super overwhelmed and anxious. Thank you for asking. Really, really overwhelmed and anxious,” said Cobb Middle School teacher Day Harrington.

At Cobb and across the state, the final planning for in-person learning is moving forward as the legal wrangling continues.

“I think we have done everything we can possible do. We’re distancing, we’re cleaning, We’re all masks. We’ve all been training all summer. I think we’ve done everything we possible can to keep our kids safe. Of course, I’m still really, really worried about it,” said Harrington.

The legal back and forth could last well into the weeks ahead before there is clarity on the injunction.

Classrooms in three of the state’s most populous counties, Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach will remain distance learning only until the virus positivity rate subsides.

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Census Facing Challenges in Final Month of Count

August 25th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Census Bureau data shows Florida still lags behind the national response rate by seven percent.

Now as census workers attempt to follow up on nonrespondent households they face a new challenge.

One out of three census workers have either quit or didn’t show up for the job and that’s going to make it even harder to count historically underrepresented communities.

The Census Bureau reports that is has counted seven out of ten Floridians so far, but time is running out.

The deadline to finish is September 30th.

“Time is running out, but it’s not too late,” said Assistant Regional Census Manager Marilyn Stephens.

Reaching that hurdle will be difficult, one third of census workers have either quit or didn’t show up for the job.

The Bureau said it’s making up for the lost staff with longer shifts.

“We may not need as many people because we don’t look at our work in terms of bodies, it’s more that we look at it in terms of staff hours,” said Stephens.

But the lower than anticipated workforce is of great concern to State Rep Anna Eskamani.

She’s worried it’s those who could benefit the most from being counted who are most likely to go unreported.

“Especially in our communities of color and our communities that have been most directly impacted by COVID-19, which tends to be lower income,” said Eskamani.

The Census Bureau told us even in a normal year, lower income and minority groups are often less likely to return their census due to an inherent distrust of government.

But the Bureau asserts there’s nothing to fear.

Census information is highly confidential.

“That means no police, no FBI, no CIA. Not even the IRS,” said Stephens.

Eskamani added even a resident’s immigration status won’t be revealed in the census.

“When it comes to the US Census it does not matter. You will not be asked to disclose your documentation status,” said Eskamani.

And the census count won’t only influence funding for communities, but also the state’s representation in Congress with the potential of adding or taking away seats in the House.

It’s not too late to fill out your census form.

You can either return it by mail, over the phone by calling 844-330-2020 or for the first time ever you can respond online.

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Judge Sides With Teachers on Classroom Opening

August 24th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

After hearing 14 witnesses, including a teacher afraid he would carry COVID-19 back to his elderly mother-in-law, a judge has issued an injunction giving the decision to open classrooms to local school boards without the fear of lost funding.

After two days of testimony, lawyers for the teachers union asked for a surgical decision: keep school funding in place, but allow districts to choose when and how to open.

“In this case that would mean a safety requirement, which is not in the order,” said Florida Education Association attorney Kendall Coffey.

In the ruling, the judge struck portions of the reopening order he deemed unconstitutional.

“The judge didn’t order all schools have to be closed. What he said was those parts of the Commissioner’s order that conditioned funding upon arbitrarily opening brick and mortar schools before the end of August is unconstitutional,” said FEA attorney Ron Meyer.

Our analysis of data from the 30, mostly smaller districts, that opened since Augusts 10th, showed a 10 percent increase in cases in kids 17 and under.

The data compares cases on August 11th and August 23rd.

In the end, the judge agreed that Hillsborough County became the poster child in this case.

The union described the state’s treatment of the county as ‘bullying’.

“The county did everything that it had in its power. It assembled a panel of doctors who unanimously, except fo the Department of Health doctor who said that he couldn’t weigh in, said that schools aren’t safe to be open right now,” said Meyer.

An appeal is likely and several days of legal wrangling will take place before districts get certainty.

The state’s contract with the outside attorneys it hired is paying each of them $450 an hour, up to a total of $550,000.

The union’s legal costs are also substantial, but unknown.

An appeal by the state will result in an automatic stay of the judge’s order.

The union expects the judge to reinstate the order because he determined the union’s case had a substantial chance of prevailing.

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Hospitality Industry Cautions Against Minimum Wage Hike During Pandemic

August 24th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Florida restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality industry continue to suffer due to pandemic.

More than 2,000 restaurants have closed their doors and industry groups fear even more could be at risk if Floridians approve a minimum wage hike this November.

An opposition campaign to Amendment 2 is already underway.

John Horne owns four restaurants in and around Bradenton.

“We’ve been in business for almost 25 years,” said Horne, President of Anna Maria Oyster Bars.

He’s been able to make ends meet through the pandemic.

“We’ve got a good, local, loyal following,” said Horne.

But in November voters will weigh in on Amendment 2, which would raise Florida’s minimum wage from the current $8.56 an hour to $10 an hour on September 30th 2021.

It would increase $1 a year until reaching $15 an hour.

After that, it would increase each year based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.

Horne told us if it passes, it could be a death blow.

“Can I raise my prices $651,000 a year? Not and keep the same number of guests. So when my guest count goes down, my hours will go down. So people will start losing jobs,” said Horne.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has predicted the wage hike would cause one out of three Florida restaurants to close for good.

“It’s a lethal blow to Florida’s jobs, Florida’s economy, Florida’s businesses. We’re all on life support right now in our jobs. So why would we want to not have any job? Because that’s where we are headed,” said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the association.

But Raymer Maguire, Campaign Manager for Amendment 2, argued the job killing narrative is overblown.

“We have not seen job loss. We have seen individuals bring home more money and spend that money in the communities they live in. This has helped small and large businesses,” said Maguire.

Because of the pandemic, opposition groups have had a hard time raising money.

They face an uphill battle going forward.

Since 1996, voters approved nine out of ten minimum wage initiatives across the country.

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Supreme Court Provides Relief to Law School Grads

August 24th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

After law school graduates protested in front of the State Supreme Court last week due to continuing Bar Examination delays, the court has issued an order that will allow them to work in their field.

The order will create a temporary program that will allow some grads to work under the supervision of a practicing attorney while they wait to take the exam.

Chief Justice Charles Canady issued an apology to grads after the exam was delayed last week.

“The three month delay in licensure is a serious matter: disruption in life that takes a financial toll and an emotional toll. And we know that for some applicants, such a delay will cause severe hardship. We are seeking to mitigate the impact of this delay through the supervised practice program that we are instituting, but we are keenly aware that this program is a stop-gap measure that will provide limited relief to a limited number of applicants,” said Canady.

The exam is now scheduled for October, but no official date has been set.

The supervised practice program must be in place by the end of August.

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Florida’s Unemployment Rate Up in July

August 21st, 2020 by Jake Stofan

The latest jobs report released Friday brought some bad news.

After unemployment dropped in June, the state saw its unemployment rate increase by 1.2 percent in July.

The latest uptick comes as the state continues seeing unprecedented unemployment claims.

At 11.3 percent Florida’s unemployment rate is once again above national average.

While the state added almost 78,000 jobs, 122,000 were added to the pool of unemployed.

“This is an unprecedented level of joblessness,” said Adrienne Johnston, Chief Economist at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

And there seems to be little sign of slowing down.

More than 212,000 new unemployment claims have been filed since the start of August.

“Even when you go back and look during the last recession, we had a significant number of claims. It was at that time unprecedented, but it was over a much longer period of time,” said Johnston.

The state has identified 2.9 million unique claims and paid $14 billion to nearly 2 million people.

Florida Democrats aren’t satisfied with that progress.

“We have hundreds of thousands of Floridians who filed jobless claims since mid-March and have yet to receive benefits,” said State Senator Lori Berman.

Florida has indicated it won’t take the federal unemployment extension offered by the President, which requires the state to pick up one fourth of the cost.

Democrats disapprove of the President’s plan, but said if Congress approves something similar, the state should opt in.

“I think our state needs to go ahead and provide that match because the alternative is simply unacceptable,” said State Senator Gary Farmer.

And Democrats continue to implore the Governor to call special session to address the unemployment issue, but the Governor has made it clear that won’t be on the table until after the November election.

According to DEO’s latest report most metro areas added jobs in July.

Construction, information and manufacturing were industries that saw the largest job losses.

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