Four million workers will start losing unemployment benefits next month as Republican governors opt out of federal benefit programs enacted in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Florida announced Monday it would drop the extra $300 that the federal government has been adding to weekly benefits so that workers would be more willing to accept lower-wage jobs.
“Transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce,” state labor secretary Dane Eagle said in a press release.
As of Monday morning, 23 states have announced they’ll discontinue the federal benefits, according to The Century Foundation, a think tank that analyzes economic policy.
Florida, Ohio, Alaska and Arizona are only dropping the $300 benefit, while the other states taking action are also canceling federal benefits for gig workers and the long-term jobless. About half of the 4 million workers will continue receiving state benefits, which average less than $400 per week. The other half will be left with nothing.
Sarah Brown of Brownsburg, Indiana, gets $469 per week ― $169 in federal long-term benefits for workers who’ve exhausted their state benefits, plus the extra $300. Indiana announced last week that it would cancel the benefits in June. Brown earns some money from a temporary part-time job helping people file their taxes, but her benefit income will cease entirely.
“I had just hoped we would have it through summer,” she said.
Brown, 36, said she and her partner are reconfiguring their budget as she searches for a data entry job that would let her work from home. She suffers from chronic abdominal pain and is hoping for a position that could accommodate two or three doctor visits every month.
Contrary to stories about employers struggling to find willing workers, Brown said she hasn’t been getting interviews.
“I’m just hoping I can find some kind of work,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s full time or part time.”
Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives urged governors to cut the benefits, saying the extra money is “causing severe labor shortages across the country.” Congressional Republicans supported the extra federal benefits last year when Donald Trump was president.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said Joe Biden’s administration should force states to continue paying the gig worker benefits until their planned expiration date in early September, but the Biden administration isn’t up for the fight.
Other Senate Democrats haven’t joined Sanders in pushing for Biden to overrule Republican governors. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who helped write the law establishing the gig benefits, would say only that Republicans are cruel to discontinue the payments ahead of schedule.
“We’re talking about losing not just the $300, but the extra weeks, gig benefits,” Wyden told HuffPost. “If [workers] have exhausted their state benefits, they will have an income of zero.”
Wyden has proposed overhauling the state-federal unemployment system in a way that would disallow states from cutting benefits as much as they currently do.
States canceling federal benefits “highlights the need for the structural reforms Wyden has proposed and we will definitely need to be able to require more of these states in federal law in the future, if we don’t want stark inequalities to exist between workers based simply on where they live,” The Century Foundation’s Andrew Stettner said in an email.
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