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MT Sets Off Wave of States Ending Fed Unemployment Benefits

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021   

HELENA, Mont. - Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte's announcement in early May that the state would stop paying the higher, pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits set off a domino effect as other states followed.

Under the American Rescue Plan Act, states could increase jobless benefits by $300 per week through early September with federal funds. Montana also allowed folks to receive them past the usual 13-week cutoff.

While unemployment numbers have gone down in Montana, Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow with the progressive Century Foundation, said there still are too many barriers to jobs for people, such as lack of child care.

"We're happy that the economy is recovered, but we don't return back to where we were overnight," he said, "and that's really what this is asking people to do, when there's not really enough time for them to be able to do so."

The Century Foundation estimated that the cutoff will affect more than 31,000 Montana workers, who now won't be getting some $154 million in federal funds. About half of U.S. states have followed Montana so far in cutting back benefits. Gianforte has said it will address a labor shortage as the state opens back up.

In place of benefits, the state is offering return-to-work bonuses of $1,200 through October and capped at $12,500 workers for people who complete four weeks of a new job. According to Stettner, bonuses are not a cost-effective way to get people back to work for the long term.

"Wage subsidies, child-care assistance, transportation assistance - people may need some help fixing their car or getting a new vehicle, for example," he said. "I'm all for those supportive services, but I think they should go alongside unemployment benefits as part of a transition out of the safety net."

Stettner said businesses also have a hand in enticing people back to work.

"Who's having the trouble filling jobs? Well, they're jobs that don't have benefits; they don't have consistent hours; they aren't paying a living wage," he said. "Maybe employers can start looking in the mirror rather than blaming unemployed people for why people don't want to take their jobs."

The enhanced unemployment benefits are slated to end on June 27 in Montana.


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