More than 20 states have moved to cut expanded jobless aid. GOP-run states slash jobless aid, the Biden administration finds it has few options.
The Biden administration has scrambled to devise a way to keep paying heightened unemployment benefits to an estimated 3.6 million Americans who stand to lose them soon in Republican-led states, but Labor Department officials have come to believe that the law does not allow them to do so.
With a federal intervention now unlikely, jobless Americans in at least 22 states including Arizona, Ohio and Texas are set to see their payments fall by $300 each week — or be wiped out entirely — as GOP governors try to force people back to work in response to a potential national labor shortage.
The trouble centers on a series of federal coronavirus stimulus programs, some of which date back to the earliest days of the pandemic. Congress over the past year has added $300 to every out-of-work American’s typical weekly unemployment check, extended the number of weeks they are eligible for aid, and offered benefits to those who are self-employed, including gig-economy laborers, who otherwise aren’t able to collect jobless support.
Federal lawmakers never required states to offer any of these programs — so Republican governors in recent days have announced plans to roll back their participation in an attempt to jolt their local economies. Some Americans are now set to see steep reductions in their payments starting in June, as they are left to collect only as much as their states allowed before the pandemic, which in some places falls below poverty-level wages. Millions more will lose all of their unemployment aid, since states generally did not pay benefits to self-employed and gig-economy workers before last year.
For Sandra Fry, a self-employed travel agent in Mountain View, Ark., the benefits are set to dry up next month. Last year, the 68-year-old enrolled in an unemployment stimulus program, as Americans stopped traveling due to the pandemic — though she’s still had to process all of their cancellations without pay in the meantime.
“I’m still talking to customers, I’m still chasing down refunds, I’m still doing my work — I’m just not getting any money for it,” she said. “I’ve worked probably harder this year than I ever have.”
The looming cuts have troubled the Biden administration and its Democratic allies, which say any shortage in workers is the result of Americans’ lingering concerns about their safety, refusal to accept low wages or inability to leave home as a result of inadequate child care. But federal officials have come to believe that they may be powerless to stop Republican governors from acting, according to two people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.