ATLANTA — Georgia is joining a growing number of Republican-led states in cutting off federal unemployment benefits to incentivize out-of-work employees to return to their jobs.
Gov. Brian Kemp said in an interview with Fox News Thursday that the Georgia Department of Labor will stop issuing $300 weekly checks to jobless workers effective June 26.
The governor’s remarks came three days after a coalition of statewide business organizations spearheaded by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce released an op-ed complaining companies can’t find workers for a growing list of job openings because unemployed Georgians are receiving more in state and federal jobless benefits than they could earn by going back to work.
“It is hurting our productivity not only in Georgia but across the country,” Kemp said. “We’ve got to get more people into the workforce.”
Kemp and state Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler have been working on a plan to address the issue since a meeting on Monday.
“It is critical for us to support our economy and local businesses by providing solutions to the roadblocks many Georgians have faced when returning to work,” Butler said Thursday in a prepared statement.
“Right now, the state has a historic number of jobs listed on Employ Georgia. We are seeing some of the highest pay scales with enhanced benefits and signing bonuses.”
But worker advocates panned the move to end the higher benefit amount Thursday, saying it is untrue that the extra $300 each month has kept many jobless Georgians from seeking new employment.
Thousands of Georgians have already returned to work since the start of the pandemic last year, contrary to Kemp’s claim that too many workers are still sitting on the sidelines, said Ray Khalfani, a research associate for the nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI).
Even so, Khalfani stressed many Georgians are still struggling to find new jobs or return to their old ones after the pandemic battered the job market and killed many service-focused businesses, particularly for low-income and predominantly Black communities in the state.
“Although some jobs are returning, that doesn’t mean everybody who wants to return to work can,” Khalfani said at a news conference.
Among them is Elizabeth Knight, a Savannah resident who has received unemployment benefits since being furloughed from her job as an employment specialist since November 2020. Knight said she has struggled to find new work in her career field while also caring for her young son.
“This unemployment is giving me a little bit of time trying to find out what’s my direction,” Knight said.
Beyond ignoring difficulties for many people trying to find new work, GBPI’s Khalfani also warned Kemp’s decision to end the extra benefit could drive more Georgians into poverty and depress consumer spending that was bolstered by the increased federal benefit.
“When you pull that floor from people who need time to be able to get back to the workforce, that’s something that’s going to hurt a lot of Georgians, hundreds of thousands,” Khalfani said.
The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package the president signed into law last month extends the $300 weekly unemployment checks into September.
Responding to complaints that the checks are encouraging virus-wary Americans not to return to work, Biden said this week that anyone who refuses to take a suitable job will lose their unemployment benefits.
At least a dozen states with Republican governors have moved to cut off the federal benefits, including South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.