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'COVID's No Longer an Emergency in Our State': Oklahoma Gov Drops COVID Unemployment Benefits

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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says it’s time to get to work.

In an appearance Monday on Fox Business, the Republican governor said the time has come for state residents who were collecting extra unemployment benefits due to the pandemic to get back on the job.

Federal legislation has allowed states to pay unemployment recipients an extra $300 per week as part of COVID-19 relief.  The legislation authorizing the payments is scheduled to end on Sept. 6.

“A few weeks ago, I lifted the state of emergency in Oklahoma because the reality is, COVID’s no longer an emergency in our state,” Stitt said. “And we were one of the first states, June 1st, to fully reopen. Cases are down 95 percent. So it is time to end the federal incentive that is incentivizing people to stay at home. And we want to get them back to work in the state of Oklahoma.”

“You know, Ronald Reagan said that the best social program is a job. And we believe that in Oklahoma. As a matter of fact, last month, we had 68,000 job postings. Businesses all over the state are telling me they can’t hire workers. And so we want to opt-out of the federal program that’s been incentivizing people and they’re making more money staying at home. And we want to get people back to work,” he said.

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During a news conference Monday, Stitt announced the first 20,000 Oklahomans who return to work will get a $1,200 bonus through the American Rescue Plan, KJRH-TV reported.

At least 21 states have decided to opt-out of the federal unemployment bonus program, according to Fox Business.

As of Tuesday morning, the list included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. Most set end dates for the program in June.

“Montana is open for business again, but I hear from too many employers throughout our state who can’t find workers. Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage,” Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement announcing the June 27 end to the extra benefit in his state.

“Incentives matter, and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good. We need to incentivize Montanans to reenter the workforce. Our return-to-work bonus and the return to pre-pandemic unemployment programs will help get more Montanans back to work.”

The Montana return-to-work bonus gives $1,200 to anyone who was on unemployment as of May 4 and returns to work.

Labor Department spokesman Michael Trupo earlier this month criticized states rolling back the extra cash, according to NBC.

“Choosing to eliminate these critical benefits will have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable,” Trupo said.

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But Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, in announcing her state’s end of the extra benefits on June 19, said it was time.

“As Alabama’s economy continues its recovery, we are hearing from more and more business owners and employers that it is increasingly difficult to find workers to fill available jobs, even though job openings are abundant,” she said in a statement.

“Among other factors, increased unemployment assistance, which was meant to be a short-term relief program during emergency related shutdowns, is now contributing to a labor shortage that is compromising the continuation of our economic recovery.”

Have these extra benefits been doled out long enough?

“Alabama has an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, the lowest in the Southeast, and significantly lower than the national unemployment rate. Our Department of Labor is reporting that there are more available jobs now than prior to the pandemic. Jobs are out there,” she said.

“We have announced the end date of our state of emergency, there are no industry shutdowns, and daycares are operating with no restrictions. Vaccinations are available for all adults. Alabama is giving the federal government our 30-day notice that it’s time to get back to work.”

Meanwhile, 36 states have restored the requirement that in order to get unemployment, individuals have to actively look for work, according to Forbes.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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