Governor Kevin Stitt on Monday announced the state would stop supplying the additional federal unemployment payments to out-of-work Oklahomans. Starting June 26th, unemployed residents can expect to see the extra $300 per week come to an end.
The state announced the decision as a means of incentivizing Oklahomans to go back into the workforce. OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt explained part of the reasoning was due to a perceived lack of interest in job openings.
Zumwalt said at a recent job fair, there were 7500 openings available, “but only 200 people came”.
Conservative states look to end unemployment
The decision by conservative-led states to roll back the additional benefits months before they expire has sparked controversy. Advocates for the continuation of extended benefits note working families face unprecedented times and call on employers to increase wages as the economy recovers. According to data from Zip-recruiter, the majority of low-skilled jobs in the state have an average annual salary of less than $29,000.
Likewise, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics seems to indicate that enhanced unemployment benefits are not dis-incentivizing people from entering the workforce. The April 2021 jobs report showed 6.6 million unemployed Americans indicated they want to find a job; 1.6 million more than in February 2020, before the pandemic.
Stitt used money from Biden policy he fought against to improve Oklahoma economy
Stitt’s administration did announce a one-time, $1200 financial incentive to get people off of unemployment and back to work. The final qualifications have not yet been announced, but Stitt plans to use funding from the American Rescue Plan to pay for it.
NEW: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says the state will end enhanced federal unemployment benefits on June 26th.
The state will instead launch a $1200 incentive for anyone who gets a job and stops receiving unemployment benefits
— Dillon Richards (@KOCODillon) May 17, 2021
Interestingly, the governor bemoaned this very source of funding in a campaign email to supporters late last week. Calling the ARP a “radical liberal policy”, Stitt blamed Biden for (among other things) the Chick-fil-A sauce shortage. The email urged supporters to donate to the governor’s re-election bid as a “last line of defense”.
State Representative Forrest Bennet shot back at the decision on Twitter.
“One way to get folks off unemployment is to just end the program and wish everyone well,” Bennett wrote.
“House Dems have proposed a different strategy; one where we make sure childcare is affordable, healthcare is accessible, and wages are livable. Me personally, I like our plan better.”
Stitt said his decision was made, in part, because “COVID is no longer an emergency in the state of Oklahoma.”
Nearly 8400 Oklahomans have lost their lives to the virus since the pandemic began and fewer than a third of residents are fully vaccinated.