As the remaining $1,400 coronavirus stimulus checks reach the bank accounts and mailboxes of cash-strapped Americans, a different government-issued financial lifeline is being taken away from more than two million individuals.
More than twenty states—all led by Republican governors—have announced that they would end their participation in a supplemental unemployment program that pays an extra $300 a week to eligible recipients. President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan will continue to offer the aid till early September.
However, the states of Arizona, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma are adding a financial incentive to unemployed workers who eventually accept a job.
Arizona’s Back to Work program is giving a one-time $1,000 payment to unemployment recipients who accept part-time employment and $2,000 to full-timers.
“In Arizona, we’re going to use federal money to encourage people to work instead of paying people not to work,” Gov. Doug Ducey recently told reporters.
In New Hampshire, the state’s Summer Stipend Program is offering $500 or $1,000 bonuses to new employees. And Montana and Oklahoma are each giving out $1,200 to individuals who sign contracts for full-time work.
These states, however, seem to be outliers. Most states who have opted out are like Indiana, which will also completely end benefit programs for individuals who are self-employed or gig workers.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb contended that the move was in response to employers not being able to hire enough workers due to the enhanced unemployment benefits.
“Eliminating these pandemic programs will not be a silver bullet for employers to find employees, but we currently have about 116,000 available jobs in the state that need filled now,” Holcomb said in a statement.
“I’ve spoken to leaders in the recreational vehicle industry who tell me they could hire thousands of people today, and in the last couple weeks, we’ve seen companies like Amazon, Apple, Toyota, and Milwaukee Tool announce thousands of new career opportunities for Hoosiers.”
Added Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp: “Every small business owner and the workers that are currently working, they need more people. It is hurting our productivity not only in Georgia, but across the country.”
The White House and some economists, though, have countered that stagnant wages and lack of viable child care options are to blame for people not reentering the workforce.
“We recognize that the labor supply has been affected by the pandemic … (but) are seeing little evidence though that enhanced unemployment benefits are currently affecting Americans’ willingness to work,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre recently said.
Despite the action to end enhanced benefits by some states, individuals who received unemployment benefits last year will still be in line to receive tax refunds beginning this month.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.