Updated: May 17, 2021
Due to appalling and false rhetoric circulating claiming boosted unemployment insurance is discouraging people from taking jobs, some Governors are opting their states out of the program entirely. Currently those states include Montana, South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, Wyoming, Utah. This list is quickly growing.
(Update as of 5/17/21: 19 States - Indiana, Alaska, West Virginia, Ohio, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming)
These states will opt out of ALL federal UI programs which means everyone in those states will lose the $300 FPUC boost. Additionally, those on PEUC (people who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks) or PUA (those not eligible for regular UI) will lose all assistance.
Politicians say this change comes because business owners are claiming they cannot find workers to fill open positions. These Governors are ignoring the real problem here. These businesses are offering low wages, part-time or unreasonable hours, high risk work, no benefits, and schedules that don't allow flexibility with child care or other obligations. These corrupt companies are being amplified by The Chamber of Commerce, a corporate lobbying group. The politicians who are regurgitating the bad business-focused rhetoric are proving their loyalty remains to their pockets, not their constituents. They are also starting a. conversation surely meant to deter even Democrats from much needed program extensions come September.
Companies offering living wages with fair benefits and hours are having no problem filling positions. Additionally, workers are still struggling with fear of the virus, unsafe work condition, lack of suitable work in their area, and child care needs as kids have not all returned to school yet. Not to mention that we are still short 8.3 million jobs in this country. We have only recovered 63% of the jobs that were lost due to the pandemic.
So far, only states with Republican governors have said they will be opting out of the federal money. The states DO NOT pay for these programs so the choice to end them is not "saving taxpayer money," it is purely a punishment to workers who are still struggling during this pandemic. It also makes very clear that these Governors are bought by corporate money and not interested in the needs of their constituents.
As an organization entirely comprised of workers who have experienced pandemic unemployment first hand, ExtendPUA.org condemns the Governors ending federal UI programs early and shoving more workers into panic and struggle. The disdain these politicians are showing for workers, especially low wage workers, is appalling. We know from our community's stories that the long term unemployed want to work. Our industries have been decimated and are slow to return. The unanswered applications are countless. The struggles of child care, new training, and nothing but jobs that won't keep a roof over our heads are overwhelming.
Not only is this an act of cruelty and punishment for workers who are still struggling to survive this pandemic, it is also just bad economics. These federal programs actually IMPROVED work searches and successes during the pandemic. Eliminating them will make it impossible for workers to continue applying for work. Money for phone and internet service is necessary for searches and applications, gas is necessary for traveling to interviews, and housing/food security is necessary for survival until a job is secured.
In response, UI champion and ExtendPUA ally Senator Ron Wyden released this statement, calling on the White House to take action.
President Biden made the following statement on Monday: "Americans want to work. I think the people claiming Americans won't work even if they find a good and fair opportunity underestimate the American people." We are, of course, happy to hear his support for Americans. Unfortunately, he also added that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a "suitable job" must take that job or lose unemployment benefits (with several exceptions that mean people do not have to choose between their safety and a paycheck). This addition to his speech was problematic because it is already the law that people will lose UI if they refuse suitable work; the fact that Biden felt he needed to reenforce the issue means he is hearing the untrue rhetoric, feeling pressure from it, and giving it airtime. He should have ignored the bogus claims or responded with pressure on businesses to raise wages and benefits to attract workers.
The White House and US Department of Labor need to ensure that states cannot opt out of these programs. We need federal UI to continue until the pandemic is over. We also need to ensure that UI is federalized long term so these states cannot take control and punish their unemployed citizens anymore. Contact President Biden today.
-Stephanie Freed, Executive Director of ExtendPUA.org