Republican-led states leave millions hanging by cutting federal unemployment benefits

Washington DC – Georgia, Arizona, and Ohio have joined the Republican-controlled states planning to cut pandemic-era unemployment benefits early.

1.4 million jobless Americans receiving federal benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance programs (stock image).
1.4 million jobless Americans receiving federal benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance programs (stock image).  © 123rf/ginasanders

So far, 16 states have announced they will end federal unemployment benefits through the American Rescue Plan several months early. They are allowed to do so under the program's provisions.

The $1.9-trillion coronavirus relief package extended eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. It also guaranteed $300 per week in payments (in addition to state benefits) for the jobless through early September.

But Republican state lawmakers are trying to reduce those benefits, with some even establishing a new cutoff date of June 12. The governors say the economy is improving and the federal program is no longer necessary, CNN reported. They also believe the added payments discourage people from rejoining the workforce.

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There are currently nearly 1.4 million jobless Americans receiving federal benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance programs. Estimates show that if all Republican governors pull out, 4.8 million Americans would feel the impacts of the $29-billion loss in payments.

The effects of withdrawing aid would not stop there: local businesses would also feel the brunt of consumers not having as much to spend.

Bernie Sanders asks labor secretary to block governors' move

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sent a letter to Marty Walsh asking him to make sure the jobless receive their federal aid.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sent a letter to Marty Walsh asking him to make sure the jobless receive their federal aid.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Some states are offering return-to-work bonuses, but that won't help people afraid of contracting or spreading the virus, or those whose children are still learning remotely.

Nevertheless, President Joe Biden said on Monday that people must return to work and that unemployment aid will be cut off once a job offer is made: "The law is clear: if you are receiving unemployment benefits and you're offered a suitable job, you can't refuse that job and just keep getting the unemployment benefits."

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders came out swinging in defense of the national program. On Thursday, he penned a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh asking him to make sure the jobless receive their federal aid even if Republican-led states try to take it away.

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"Democrats in Congress secured life-saving unemployment aid to workers so they wouldn’t have to go back to work for starvation wages or without childcare. I sent a letter to Labor Secretary Walsh today asking him to ensure Republican Governors do not strip that assistance away," Sanders tweeted.

A Labor Department spokesperson responded: "Secretary Walsh and the Biden administration have been doing all they can to take concrete action to prevent anyone from falling through the cracks as we know unemployment benefits have served as a vital lifeline for workers throughout the pandemic -- to help them buy food, pay rent and remain healthy."

Cover photo: 123rf/ginasanders

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