Federal unemployment benefits will be ending weeks early for around 90,000 Oklahomans, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Monday alongside employers who said they’re struggling to find people to fill open positions.
“Our challenge is not to get businesses back open; we've done that. It's been getting employees back to work,” Stitt said. “Without a doubt, one the of the factors causing this has been the continued extension of extra federal benefits.”
Along with the early termination of federal benefits, Stitt announced a $1,200 incentive for the first 20,000 Oklahoma who come off unemployment benefits and hold a full-time job for at least 6 weeks.
The cut off takes effect June 26, about 10 weeks ahead of the September 6 federal deadline. The benefits being terminated include Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC).
"As we emerge from the pandemic, it is important we continue to focus on rebuilding our economy, which means we need more Oklahomans to participate in our state's workforce," Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said.
To be eligible for the $1,200 incentive, you must have had an active unemployment claim and filed for at least one week between the dates of May 2 through 15, 2021, must accept an offer of employment in the state of Oklahoma, working 32 hours a week or more, and complete at least six full weeks of paid employment and can provide a valid paycheck stub for proof between May 17, 2021 - Sept. 4, 2021.
Democrats in the state legislature applauded the incentive noting it is funded by President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. In statements, the House Democratic Caucus slammed the early cut off of benefits.
“This reality has made it clear that the number one priority of the GOP is to remove money and benefits from working Oklahomans and increase the profitability of corporations and their out-of-state shareholders,” House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said.
The State Chamber of Commerce applauded the move.
“Every employer I speak with, inside or outside of the state, is struggling to recruit workers,” Chamber President Chad Warmington said. “While federal programs provided needed benefits at the height of the pandemic when businesses were forced to shutter, these benefits have now incentivized workers to remain on unemployment after we have safely reopened our economy.”
The Oklahoma Employment Commission said they will continue to hold job fairs to help Oklahomans return to work.
“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,” Stitt said.