He and other Republican officials in the dozen red-led states that have yet to expand Medicaid aren’t stepping up to take advantage of a big sweetener that Democrats included in their recent $1.9 trillion relief package. Those states that broaden Medicaid will receive a 5-percentage-point boost in their federal matching funds for two years.
While Republicans in Washington focus on ridding the party of leaders perceived as disloyal to former President Donald Trump — this week ousting Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from the House leadership — GOP governors are leaning into the longstanding party orthodoxy of advocating for paychecks instead of government handouts.
States aren’t on the hook to pay the billions of dollars of benefits to millions of their residents — Congress made sure that the federal government would pick up the tab when it passed its historic expansion of the nation’s unemployment benefits system in March 2020. But the governors who are terminating the programs say that the more generous payments — including the $300 weekly federal boost to state benefits — are keeping workers on the sidelines and hurting businesses’ ability to fully reopen.
“As we emerge from Covid-19, retail and service companies, restaurants and industry are attempting to return to pre-pandemic unemployment levels, but employees are as scarce today as jobs were a year ago,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who announced his state would cease the federal benefits on June 26.
Ending pandemic unemployment benefits early
Republican governors in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming have announced they are terminating the federal jobless benefits in their states in June or July, including the $300 weekly boost and the payments for freelancers, independent contractors, certain people affected by the virus and those who’ve run out of their regular state benefits. All cited labor shortages.
Many also said the time for the bigger federal coronavirus cushion had passed, now that more Americans are vaccinated and case counts are declining.
“What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay at home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who announced last week that the programs would end on June 30 in his state.
More than 300 people responded to CNN’s request asking whether they are at risk of losing their benefits early. Some said that they could not find jobs that pay close to what they used to make or that are in their fields. Others said the available positions require licenses and training that they don’t have. And still others said they were still caring for their young children or have vulnerable family members at home.
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