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Idaho to drop federal pandemic unemployment supplement

Business & Money

BOISE (AP) — Gov. Brad Little on Tuesday announced he’s ending Idaho’s participation in all federal coronavirus pandemic unemployment compensation programs so that employers can get workers back on the job.

The Republican governor said that three programs will end June 19. The programs include a weekly supplement of $300, unemployment help for the self-employed, and an emergency program that extended benefits when regular benefits ended.

“Employers are telling me one of the big reasons they cannot recruit and retain some workers is because those employees are receiving more on unemployment than they would while working,” Little said in a statement. “My decision is based on a fundamental conservative principle – we do not want people on unemployment. We want people working. A strong economy cannot exist without workers returning to a job.”

The state unemployment rate in March was 3.2%, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. The rate was 2.7% in March of last year, but jumped to 11.6% in April after the coronavirus pandemic reached Idaho.

Mississippi will also stop accepting the weekly $300 supplemental unemployment benefits next month, and a handful of other states have similar plans.

The Idaho Chamber Alliance, representing chambers across the state, supports the decision.

“We feel that this is an important next step to helping businesses recover and we look forward to working with the Governor’s Office as we seek ways to improve workforce availability for Idaho’s businesses,” Chip Schwarze, chairman of the Idaho Chamber Alliance, said in a statement.

Besides ending the three federal unemployment programs, the state in April reinstated a work search requirement, meaning those out of work and collecting unemployment benefits must look for full-time employment. That requirement had been lifted during the pandemic.

Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25, which adds up to $290 for a 40-hour week before taxes are taken out.

Labor experts say the shortage on a national level is not just about the $300 unemployment payment. Some unemployed people also have been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus. Others have found new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

About 190,000 Idaho residents have been infected with the virus and more than 2,000 have died, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

But infections and deaths have been falling as more residents are vaccinated. State officials say that 540,000 of Idaho’s 1.8 million residents are fully vaccinated, and about another 84,000 people having received the first dose of vaccines requiring two doses.

Anyone 16 and older can get vaccinated in Idaho.

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