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Alabama to end federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama will end participation in all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs on June 19, Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Monday.

Ivey in a press release cited the state’s recent low unemployment numbers and some businesses’ struggles to find workers as reasons for ending the extra benefits. 

“As Alabama’s economy continues its recovery, we are hearing from more and more business owners and employers that it is increasingly difficult to find workers to fill available jobs, even though job openings are abundant,” Ivey said. “Among other factors, increased unemployment assistance, which was meant to be a short-term relief program during emergency related shutdowns, is now contributing to a labor shortage that is compromising the continuation of our economic recovery.”

Alabamians who have filed prior and up to June 19 who are still eligible under the federal program requirements can still be processed, the release said.  

The federal programs Alabama intends to halt include:

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides for an additional $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits for those who would not usually qualify, such as the self-employed, gig workers, and part-time workers,
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides for an extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted, and
  • Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional $100 benefit to certain people with mixed earnings.

Job postings on the Alabama Department of Labor’s online help wanted site are up 38% over last year, department spokeswoman Tara Hutchison said recently. Food preparation and server job postings are up 73%, she said.

A shortage of willing workers seems to have hit the hospitality industry especially hard.

In all, there were 73,570 job ads in March, up more than 20,000 from March 2020, when the pandemic hit Alabama. The 65,392 ads in February were about 12,600 more than pre-pandemic February 2020. 

Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington referenced the high amount of job postings in the press release for supporting the move to halt the extra benefits.

“There are plenty of opportunities available in multiple industries in Alabama,” Washington said.

Ivey also cited the fact that Alabama’s state of emergency related to the pandemic is set to end on July 6 and that there are currently no industry shutdowns in the state or day care operating restrictions.

“Alabama is giving the federal government our 30-day notice that it’s time to get back to work,” Ivey said.

The labor department has also reinstated the work search requirements for all claimants, which was temporarily waived during the pandemic. Claimants will not have to prove they are actively searching for work to remain eligible for state unemployment benefits.

In addition to Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana and South Carolina are planning to stop accepting the extra $300 benefit, according to the Associated Press.

Alabama Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, applauded Ivey’s actions on Monday.

“The extra money included in weekly federal unemployment benefits deters Americans from working and discourages individuals from finding work opportunities,” Scofield said in a press release. “You cannot go anywhere in my district without seeing a ‘help wanted’ sign, and I have heard from businesses of all types that they cannot find individuals who are willing to work.”

However not all see the move as a positive step for working Alabamians.

Dev Wakeley, Alabama Arise Policy analyst for Human Rights and Consumer Protection, told Alabama Daily News that the move was prioritizing state economics over working Alabamians’ personal health.

“People are going to end up hospitalized with COVID because of this and making people go back to work with no health insurance because the state has refused stubbornly to expand Medicaid and they’re not going to have paid time off for sickness and they’re going to have employers who have the state’s blessing to be as negligent as they want to be,” Wakeley said. “It is a terrible policy decision on top of a prior terrible policy decision.”

The Alabama Legislature earlier this year passed a bill that would shield businesses, health care providers and others from lawsuits from employees and customers who claim they were exposed to COVID-19.

Based on ADOL’s most recent weekly unemployment claims, 10,325 initial claims were filed for the week of April 35- May 1, and they estimate that 8,306 of those claims were COVID-19 related.

State Sen. Chris Elliott last month said a shortage of willing workers was hurting the tourism industry on the coast.

“I applaud the governor for her action,” Elliott, R-Daphne, said Monday. “Unemployment is at an all-time low especially in districts like mine. These enhanced federal unemployment benefits have outlived their usefulness and are causing substantial and long lasting harm to our economy especially our small businesses. Any able bodied individual in my district who wants to work can find work.”

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