McHugh David: Time’s up on enhanced unemployment benefits

Several states have already taken steps to end the federal unemployment enhancement, which adds $300 to unemployment benefits, per week.

The enhancement was extended to Labor Day, Sep. 6, 2021 through the most recent stimulus package after President Joe Biden took office.

However, it’s safe to say as vaccinations ramp up across the country – and some places, including Louisiana, consider sending vaccines to other states and countries that are more needing – perhaps the Labor Day goal was a little too generous.

South Carolina and Wyoming were the first two states to undo the federal benefit, with several other states including large places like Florida and Texas considering the action, and President Biden pushed back.

Unfortunately for Biden, this has turned into a ‘have cake and eat it to’ situation. While it’s not the entire picture, many states are struggling to bring low-wage workers back into the fold as the enhanced unemployment benefit pays more than minimum wage.

It’s not the entire picture because unemployment figures in many states are near to where they were last year, if not lower. Many workers decided that, instead of continuing to earn minimum wage or focus on service industry jobs that are reliant on tips, they would take the time during quarantine to move into a different profession or revisit their education.

Who’s to blame them? It was the perfect time to try something new if the service industry didn’t provide the lifestyle desired.

However, as long as unemployment benefits exceed the minimum wage, it’s an easy argument to make that at least some, if not the majority, of workers who are choosing not to return to work are simply living on the enhanced benefit.

One concession President Biden has made, in response to criticism from Republicans, is to revisit work requirement checks for those who choose to remain on unemployment. While it may be a strategy to push for more time, those requirements should be reinstituted by June.

On the reverse side, it’s not hard for the Department of Labor to recommend certain places keep the enhanced benefit due to outbreaks, business closures, or a combination of both.

In the interim, instead of states simply cutting off the spigot, the responsible move for this administration would be to realize the ever-increasing number of vaccinations, and those who choose not to receive them, as well as the number of businesses reopening fully and using that data to recommend to congress a new date for the benefits to end, probably sometime in June.

As summer approaches, warm weather combined with the outdoors and natural social distancing make for a good environment for a return to work considering what we know about the coronavirus and it’s weaknesses.

One thing, however, is a surety – the United States cannot continue to pay for individuals to stay home. Regardless of what percentage of unemployment are taking advantage of the system, if it’s even five people across the country it’s bad policy.

Vaccinations will soon be available for children, which means that everyone who is eligible to work is also eligible for vaccination.

It’s time for the country to move on, and get out of it’s own way.

McHugh David is publisher of the Livingston Parish News.