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Arkansas to drop out of federal pandemic unemployment programs

Updated: May. 8, 2021 at 6:50 PM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (WMC) - Arkansas is set to become the first state in the Mid-South to end its participation in federal pandemic unemployment programs.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the programs have outlived their usefulness and may be causing the state more harm than good.

In a letter sent Friday, Hutchinson ordered the state’s Division of Workforce Services to end Arkansas’ participation in federal pandemic unemployment programs.

The programs provide an additional $300 in weekly unemployment payments to thousands of Arkansans who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

Hutchinson says almost 3 million unemployment claims have been processed, totaling almost $3 billion.

Congress extended the payments until September.

“Continuing these programs until the planned expiration date of September 4th is not necessary and actually interferes with the ability of employers to fill over 40,000 job vacancies in Arkansas,” said Hutchinson.

Nationwide, some industries, like the hotel industry, have plenty of job openings, but those positions are going unfilled.

Friday’s jobs report found fewer people joined the workforce last month than economists had been expecting.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce blamed it on federal pandemic unemployment programs saying as many as 1 in 4 recipients took home more in unemployment than they earned from working.

The chamber is now calling on Congress and the White House to end the programs.

But President Joe Biden is not budging.

“I know some employers are having trouble filling jobs but what this report shows is that there’s a much bigger problem,” Biden said. “Our economy still has 8 million fewer jobs than when this pandemic started.”

Arkansas joins Montana and South Carolina in opting out of the federal pandemic unemployment programs.

Arkansas would opt out effective June 26.

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