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Cox announces end of pandemic unemployment payments

May 12, 2021, 10:08 AM | Updated: Aug 2, 2022, 12:40 pm
Governor Spencer Cox - Utah vaccination rates...
FILE: Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. Photo: Jeffrey Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s governor, Spencer Cox, announced Wednesday he plans to end a federal $300 weekly stimulus payment currently tied to unemployment benefits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a release, Cox cited Utah’s low unemployment rate in the decision. 
“This is the natural next step in getting the state and people’s lives back to normal,” Cox said. “I believe in the value of work. With the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.9% and plenty of good paying jobs available today, it makes sense to transition away from these extra benefits that were never intended to be permanent. The market should not be competing with government for workers.”

According to the statement, about 28,000 currently receive the additional $300 pandemic unemployment boost. State officials said Utah currently receives about $12.4 million in federal pandemic unemployment aid each week.

Cox ends unemployment boost as companies seek more labor

Utah employment officials point out the state boasts thousands of available jobs — 50,000 through the Department of Workforce Services alone.

“As employers compete for workers, we are ready to help those local businesses recruit and hire employees,” said Casey Cameron, executive director of the Department of Workforce Services. “For job seekers, we can provide career coaching, education assistance, job search help and more, either online or in-person at an employment center. For many workers, this transition can be a great time to gain additional skills and open doors to new opportunities.”

Business leaders also weighed in, pointing to a shortage of available workers. Some have argued the current unemployment benefits available keep jobseekers from accepting employment. 

“The challenge our economy currently faces is not the scarcity of well-paying jobs, but the lack of workers,” said Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance. “. . . We need to normalize the labor market by assisting those currently unemployed to find opportunities to rejoin the workforce as soon as possible.” 

Not everyone on board 

Utah becomes one of about 10 states to end the additional unemployment aid with the decision from Cox. 

Labor experts pushed back against the idea that unemployment benefits lead those without jobs to quit looking for work. On “Face the Nation” Sunday, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the top reason many jobseekers aren’t headed back to the office is pandemic-related fear. 

“If you look nationally, wages aren’t going up. People are still telling us the number one reason they’re not going back to work is fear, due to the virus,” Raimondo told CBS News. “More people were looking for work last month than the month before.” 

Additionally, a number of women chose not to return to work because of the pandemic’s affect on their ability to get child care and other factors, a phenomenon known as the pink recession

“This unemployment insurance has been a lifeline, a survival lifeline for so many Americans,” Raimondo added. 

In states that do not opt out, the benefit will continue through early September, according to USA Today. 

Utah’s congressional delegation reacts

The decision to end the extended benefits appeased members of Utah’s GOP congressional delegation. 

Senator Mike Lee thanked the governor and called the move “an important step forward” on Twitter Wednesday. 

Senator Mitt Romney tweeted in support of the governor, stating the extra unemployment money disincentivized people from finding work. 

Representative Burgess Owens stated Cox’s decision will help get Utahns back to work.

 

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Cox announces end of pandemic unemployment payments