Montana opts to end extra $300/wk unemployment. Other states may, too

Daily News Article   —   Posted on May 6, 2021

(from KRTV with AP) — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Tuesday the state will end its participation next month in the federal covid-19 unemployment  program, as the state struggles with a worker shortage.

Beginning June 27, unemployed workers in the state will no longer receive $300 in extra weekly benefits, forgoing payments that were approved through Sept. 6.

Instead, the state will launch a new program to provide bonuses to unemployed workers who return to work.

Under the new incentive program (the Return to Work initiative), workers currently receiving unemployment benefits can qualify for a one-time $1,200 bonus after they have completed four weeks in a new job. The governor approved $15 million in funding for the incentives from federal coronavirus relief dollars allocated to the state.

“Montana is open for business again, but I hear from too many employers throughout our state who can’t find workers. Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage,” said Gianforte. “Incentives matter, and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good. We need to incentivize Montanans to reenter the workforce. Our return-to-work bonus and the return to pre-pandemic unemployment programs will help get more Montanans back to work.”

Across Montana, employers struggle to find workers, particularly in the health care, construction, manufacturing, and hospitality and leisure industries. Returning to pre-pandemic unemployment eligibility and offering return-to-work incentives will encourage workers to reenter the workforce and help ease a critical labor shortage across Montana.

“Montana’s unemployment rate is at just 3.8% – near pre-pandemic lows – and statewide there are record numbers of new job postings each week. But today, despite an influx of new residents into Montana over the last year, our labor force is some 10,000 workers smaller than it was before the pandemic,” said Laurie Esau, the commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor & Industry. “Our labor shortage doesn’t just affect employers and business owners. Employees who are forced to work longer shifts, serve more customers or clients, and take on more duties have been paying the price.”

Gianforte said that Montana will be the first state in the nation to fully opt-out of the federal unemployment benefit programs enacted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Requirements that unemployment insurance claimants actively seek work and be “able and available” for work will be reinstated effective June 27, as well. These requirements had previously been suspended under emergency rule-making authority in March of last year. More information about work-search and “able & available” requirements is available in the UI Claimants handbook.

Compiled from a report at KRTV .com with Associated Press. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission.