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oklahoma covid unemployment
People crowd around an Oklahoma Employment Security Commission employee early one morning to get a number at a jobless event in Tulsa.
Nick Oxford/for The Washington Post

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt wants citizens back to work, and is willing to incentivize them to do so. After ending the extended unemployment benefits provided by the federal government, Governor Stitt has supported the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission in providing $1200 to the first 20,000 Oklahoman applicants who return to the workforce, dubbed the “Back to Work Initiative.” 

Nearly 100,000 citizens were receiving an extra $300 weekly in unemployment benefits, money that was provided to states by the federal government. Those extended unemployment benefits for Oklahomans expired earlier this week, on June 26. 

Governor Stitt, who claims that Oklahoma’s economy has been “open” since June of 2020, still endeavors to make Oklahoma a top-ten state, despite evidence to the contrary. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Oklahoma businesses and organizations particularly hard, leading to layoffs and downsizing of workers — not to mention the thousands of Oklahomans who lost their lives to COVID-19 over the last 15 months.

One-time incentive rather than raising wages

However, Governor Stitt hopes that the financial incentive helps support and bolster Oklahoma’s economy. 

In a press release from May, Governor Stitt noted, “This is the right move for Oklahoma… the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma businesses today is not reopening, it’s finding employees. For Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state, workforce participation must be at a top level and I am committed to doing what I can to help Oklahomans get off the sidelines and into the workforce.”

Governor Stitt did not mention any other plans to support Oklahomans in finding employment following the pandemic that killed over 7500 Oklahomans and continues to this day. Nor did he call for businesses to raise their wages. 

Governor wants people receiving unemployment back to low-wage jobs

Meanwhile, The seven-day rolling average for COVID cases is slowly creeping up as the Delta variant of COVID-19 has been found more transmissible and deadlier for those who aren’t vaccinated. 

Governor Stitt, who ended Oklahoma’s extended unemployment benefits through an executive order, believes that the extended unemployment benefits were paying Oklahomans to stay home rather than work. “It is time to get back to work,” he said in an interview, following up with confirmation of his point of view. “It’s time to end that federal incentive, that was incentifying people to stay at home.”

The Back to Work Initiative is limited to the first 20,000 applicants who can prove through paystubs that they are working at least 32 hours per week in either one full-time job or several part-time positions, over the last six weeks, after receiving pandemic-related extended unemployment benefits. 

Oklahomans can apply for the Back to Work Initiative program through the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission website.

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...

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