WASHINGTON - Almost 2 million out-of-work Americans stand to prematurely lose their unemployment benefits after more than a dozen GOP-led states announced plans to drop out of the federal jobless aid programs this summer.
As of Friday, at least 18 states have said they will cut off the sweetened aid – which provided an extra $300 a week on top of regular state unemployment benefits – before its official expiration date of Sept. 6, 2021. In some states, the boosted benefits will end as soon as June 12.
The withdrawal will affect close to 2 million people living in those states, which includes Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to new data published by the Century Foundation, a nonprofit think tank.
They will forego roughly $10.9 billion in assistance, the report showed.
The new measures come in light of the Labor Department's April payroll report, which revealed the economy added just 266,000 jobs last month – sharply missing the 1 million forecast by Refinitiv economists. GOP lawmakers were quick to blame the extra unemployment aid for the lackluster job growth, although experts have also cited a lack of child care and fears of contracting COVID-19 for the hiring shortage.
There remain about 8.2 million fewer jobs than there were in February 2020, before the pandemic shut down broad swaths of the nation's economy. According to the Century Foundation, there are just 8 million job openings in the country – compared to 16 million out-of-work Americans.
The average state unemployment benefit is about $330 per week. With the federal supplement, Americans are receiving about $630 in weekly unemployment benefits. (For comparison's sake, that's about $32,000 annually, or roughly double the nation's minimum wage.)
President Biden and Democrats have rejected the notion that Americans are choosing to stay home and collect the extra unemployment benefits – part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law passed in March – rather than returning to work.
"We don't see much evidence of that," Biden told reporters during a White House press conference on Monday. "Americans want to work."
But even as he maintained that his administration would not "turn our backs on our fellow Americans," Biden pledged to enforce unemployment insurance laws so that no American can "game the system" to get paid not to work
"We’re going to make it clear to anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job they must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits," Biden said.
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