Republican governors across the country have begun to cut off federal unemployment benefits, claiming that they are preventing people from returning to work despite little evidence to back their statements, The Washington Post reports.
Governors in Montana, South Carolina, and Arkansas have announced plans to halt the $300 federal unemployment benefit boost approved by Congress in the last round of coronavirus relief aid and more are expected to follow.
Republican lawmakers unanimously voted against the unemployment benefits when they were passed by Congress and cited last week’s disappointing jobs report to back their argument that the generous unemployment benefit is a disincentive to return to work.
The US Chamber of Commerce, a major business group, also called on Congress to repeal the benefit entirely, though that is not likely to happen.
Democrats say the slow return to work is the result of a lack of accessible child care and other pandemic-related reasons.
“A deeply disturbing trend is emerging with Republican governors cutting off enhanced jobless benefits months early, and Republican interest groups pushing the move,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said in a statement. “Cutting off all benefits while millions of workers have not yet been able to return to work could cause tremendous financial pain and sabotage our economic recovery.”
GOP governors cite labor shortages:
Montana was the first state to announce plans to end the benefits, citing a “labor shortage” even though the state’s unemployment rate is well below the national average. The state now plans to offer a one-time return-to-work payment.
South Carolina and Arkansas soon followed, arguing that the economy is “rebounding so quickly.”
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey are considering similar moves.
Experts sound the alarm:
Labor experts have warned that the program provides a critical lifeline for millions who do not get state unemployment benefits.
Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, told the Post that states risk cutting off aid prematurely, putting families who want to return to work at financial risk.
“They’re misguided in their thinking about why people aren’t returning to work,” Dixon said. “There are all of these ways our care infrastructure is not back up.”
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo rejected claims that unemployment assistance was responsible for last week’s underwhelming jobs report, telling CBS News that “there is nothing in the data" to suggest that is the case.
"When the president moved to make this happen, this unemployment insurance has been a lifeline, a survival lifeline for so many Americans," she said, adding, "If you look nationally, wages aren't going up. People are still telling us the number one reason they're not going back to work is fear, due to the virus. More people were looking for work last month than the month before."