Dozens of Texas business groups urge Gov. Abbott to end additional $ 300 in federal unemployment compensation
Updated at 8:30 p.m. with comment from Texas Workforce Commission
The Texas Association of Business and more than three dozen other business groups are pushing Gov. Greg Abbott to cut the additional $ 300 in federal benefits that currently go to unemployed Texans.
Almost a million Texans remained unemployed and depended on benefit payments for their income in March.
In GOP-led states, canceling extra pay is seen as a way to force workers back into the workforce to address labor shortages as the economy recovers from the crisis. COVID-19 pandemic.
GOP governors in at least 16 states have announced plans to cut benefits: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.
“Employers believe that [unemployment] Washington’s benefit payments discourage work and result in many good jobs in Texas that go unfilled, ”the Texas Trade Association and 38 chambers of commerce and professional associations wrote Thursday in a letter to the governor and at the Texas Workforce Commission.
“With COVID-19 on the decline and job vacancies on the rise, we believe it is time for Texas executives and the Texas Workforce Commission to reconsider unemployment benefits, job search requirements for the ‘Unemployment Insurance and Texas’ Role in Federal Extended Unemployment Benefits, ”the letter says.
The movement to end supplemental unemployment compensation began with Montana on May 4. Governor Greg Gianforte set a threshold on June 27, with a back-to-work bonus of $ 1,200 to cushion the blow.
Abbott has not indicated whether he is considering such a move. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
At TWC, the agency that oversees unemployment benefits in Texas, spokesman James Bernsen said, “The states that have made the decision to opt out of federally funded unemployment insurance programs are different from the Texas. Texas is a much larger and more diverse state and we are thoughtful and deliberate in our analysis before making a decision.
Senator John Cornyn has not discussed the matter with Abbott, but suspects he is “seriously considering” following other states that have chosen to end the federal supplement.
“Right now there is such a labor shortage that it’s a sellers’ market in terms of the wages of people ready to go back to work. There is quite a shortage of volunteer workers, ”said Cornyn.
“In many places, including Texas, the combination of the state unemployment insurance benefit and the federal supplement pays people more than they would receive if they were actually working, and I never want to be able to pay people more not to work than to work, ”the Republican told reporters in Texas on a weekly call.
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki criticized any decision to cut the $ 300 in weekly federal benefits, calling it “off track” and saying it was based on a misconception that people don’t return. not at work because of the weekly checks.
“Governors are going to make their own decisions, but… when you look at the facts, we didn’t see that as a factor that causes people not to go back to work,” she said.
Critics of the move to cut extra unemployment benefit say it would hurt people who can’t work because they’re sick, caring for someone with COVID-19, or can’t find health services. adequate child care.
In response to Montana’s decision to cancel this benefit, the executive director of the workers’ advocacy group, Rebecca Dixon, of the National Employment Law Project, said return-to-work bonuses “can become a tool to coerce workers to accept substandard jobs, rather than allowing workers to pursue quality jobs that provide financial security. “
Many Republicans in Congress warned early on in the pandemic that boosting unemployment benefits would cause low-income workers to stay out of the workforce longer. But Congress and then-President Donald Trump continued their efforts with a federal supplement of $ 600 a week in March 2020, as the pandemic threw tens of millions of people out of work.
In May, Cornyn called the $ 600 payments a mistake. Congress reduced it to $ 300 from the end of July, extending the benefits to that level in December and again in March as part of the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout.
In recent weeks, GOP governors have faced increasing pressure from business interests to cut the weekly supplement of $ 300 well ahead of the September 6 expiration, as employers – especially restaurants – scramble. to fill vacant positions.
In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey announced Thursday that benefits will end on July 10. To encourage unemployed Arizonans to re-enter the workforce, the state is offering a bonus of $ 2,000 to anyone who returns to work full-time and continues to collect a paycheck for 10 weeks. .
Arizona’s unemployment payments are among the lowest in the country at $ 240 per week.
Without the additional pandemic payments, the average Texas unemployment benefit is only slightly higher: around $ 246 per week with a maximum payment of $ 521, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Texas’ unemployment rate was stable from the previous month in March at 6.9%, and the state’s economy added nearly 100,000 jobs. The state is expected to release employment data from April to the end of next week.