Montana set to halt supplemental unemployment benefits, restore pre-COVID work requirements

As part of the federal government’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, supplemental unemployment payments of $300 per week on top of base benefits were approved, prompting some state and local leaders to argue that the total amount of income has actually disincentivized returning to work.

Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has described the situation as unacceptable, and now, Breitbart reports that he’s taking steps to address the problem.

Reduced benefits, heightened requirements

In an announcement on Tuesday, the governor revealed that the state would withdraw the pandemic-related federal unemployment benefit and offer a “return to work” bonus of $1,200 instead.

His action also seeks to reinstate pre-pandemic work requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits to remain eligible.

According to KECI, Gianforte’s plan would provide a cash bonus to anyone in the state’s unemployment system who accepts a job and keeps it for at least one month. The program would be funded by the American Rescue Plan recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden.

As of June 27, Montana is scheduled to withdraw from the federal supplemental unemployment benefits program as well as two other COVID-related unemployment programs: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation programs.

New eligibility restrictions will also be implemented on that date, requiring able-bodied adults to actively seek work in order to remain in the state program.

“Doing more harm than good”

Gianforte defended his action in a press release this week, citing the state’s labor shortage among small businesses and a low unemployment rate as motivating factors.

“Montana is open for business again, but I hear from too many employers throughout our state who can’t find workers,” he said, according to Breitbart. “Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage.”

The governor went on to argue that “the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good,” insisting that leaders “need to incentivize Montanans to reenter the workforce.”

Montana Labor and Industry Commissioner Laurie Esau noted that even with an unemployment rate drop to 3.8%, the labor force is about 10,000 smaller than it had been prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Gianforte sounded off against those who choose not to return to work in a Fox Business Network interview on Wednesday, acknowledging that while emergency measures “may have been necessary during the height of the crisis,” such benefits “should be a safety net, not a career choice.”

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