Republican governors embrace lies and longtime racist tactics in cutting off unemployment aid

Republican governors embrace lies and longtime racist tactics in cutting off unemployment aid
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (circa 2017), USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

The flood of Republican-controlled states cutting off the federal unemployment benefits supplement will lead to nearly 2 million people losing payments before the September cutoff passed by Congress. The nearly 1.4 million people in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance programs will lose everything they're currently getting, while people on traditional unemployment insurance will lose the $300 a week above their state's regular benefits.

"These changes have the potential to drastically scale back assistance to jobless workers far too early in the recovery," Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, told CNN. "Nationally, there are still 16.8 million workers on one of the unemployment programs, and the nation is still short 8 million-plus jobs from the start of the pandemic."

According to Stettner's calculations, the early cutoffs will strip billions of dollars from jobless workers. If every state that has announced it's refusing the federal supplement did so starting on June 12, it would be $10.8 billion, but several states have announced later cutoff dates.

The Republican message is that this is what's needed because too many people are sitting home living large on unemployment aid and are too lazy to work. In reality, writes Adam Chandler at The Washington Post, "In the past year alone, study after study has debunked the myth that the emergency benefits and occasional payments provided by the government are disincentivizing people from returning to the labor force en masse."

Back when the federal government was adding $600 a week to unemployment benefits—a measure passed by a Republican Senate and signed by Donald Trump—a study by Yale economists found "no evidence that high UI [unemployment insurance] replacement rates drove job losses or slowed rehiring." Also last summer, University of Massachusetts economist Arindrajit Dube looked at unemployed workers without a college degree. "Overall," he concluded, "these findings do not provide evidence supporting the claim that the [Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation] has held back the labor market recovery."

And, Chandler notes, even these supposedly lavish unemployment benefits are not eradicating hunger: "According to a Census Bureau survey last month, nearly 1 in 3 Americans on unemployment said they were still failing to cover routine expenses such as food, housing and medical treatments."

So studies show that the emergency benefits aren't keeping lazy people from looking for work. Surveys show that people are not living large, or even necessarily making ends meet. But history gives us a context for the persistent claims that that's what's going on, as AFL-CIO economist William Spriggs pointed out:


Republicans can't reproduce those conditions, but they can use low or no unemployment benefits to force people back into minimum-wage and unsafe jobs—and the present-day effort also echoes the past in the disproportionately Black and Latino workers it targets, after 14 months in which Black and Latino people have disproportionately suffered and died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, Montana, South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Idaho, Tennessee, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, Georgia, Arizona, and Ohio have announced cutoff dates ranging from June 12 to July 10. More states could follow, raising the number of people in economic pain as a direct result of Republican lies about the unemployment situation.

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