Texas, Indiana join GOP-led states rejecting enhanced unemployment benefits

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Republican governors are increasingly rejecting the supercharged federal unemployment benefits in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, saying the additional cash is discouraging potential workers from seeking employment as the economy reopens.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is among the latest to announce that his state is opting out of the boosted benefits — a change that will take effect at the end of June.

Mr. Abbott said the current number of job openings in his state is almost identical to the number of residents who are receiving unemployment benefits.

“That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs,” Mr. Abbott said this week. “In fact, there are nearly 60% more jobs open (and listed) in Texas today than there was in February 2020, the month before the pandemic hit Texas.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb made a similar announcement this week.

At least 17 other states have announced plans to opt out. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte was the first governor to make such an announcement this month.

The relief package Congress passed in March extends into September a $300-per-week boost to people’s regular state unemployment benefits.

Republican lawmakers have floated alternatives, such as “return-to-work bonuses,” that are intended to incentivize people to take jobs instead of relying on unemployment.

“We’ve been warning about this predictable crisis for a year now: Americans want to work, but the federal government is paying more for unemployment than for work,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican. “Well-meaning but stupidly designed policy is holding Main Street back.”

Mr. Sasse announced legislation last week that would convert the boosted unemployment benefits into a signing bonus worth 101% of what people would receive by taking the federal dollars.

Mr. Gianforte’s office said Montana would offer $1,200 payments to individuals on unemployment who accept a job and remain employed for at least a month.

Republicans also have raised concerns about reports of at least $60 billion worth of improper unemployment benefit payments since March 2020, when lawmakers approved a $600-per-week boost.

“Unchecked unemployment fraud is delaying legitimate payments, diverting funds away from unemployed workers, and turning thousands of Americans into unwitting identity theft victims,” said Rep. Jackie Walorski, Indiana Republican.

The push comes after the U.S. experienced slower-than-expected job growth in April. The economy added just 266,000 jobs last month, well below expectations.

President Biden said the White House doesn’t see much evidence that the enhanced benefits are slowing the labor market.

At the same time, he said his administration would make clear that potential workers can’t turn down a job and keep collecting the benefits without providing a valid excuse.

“People will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” Mr. Biden said. “My expectation is that, as our economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments. And if they do, they’ll find plenty of workers.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders petitioned Labor Secretary Marty Walsh last week to keep the enhanced benefits flowing.

“Allowing state governors to cut this assistance off will guarantee jobless Americans plunge into poverty,” Mr. Sanders, Vermont independent, said in a letter to Mr. Walsh. “As Secretary, you are obligated to ensure this aid gets to workers.”

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