Roundtable highlights hiring challenges caused by enhanced unemployment benefits.
Washington, D.C. – Main Street employers shared their experiences with how enhanced unemployment benefits have discouraged Americans from returning to work and slowed the re-opening of the American economy during a public Ways and Means panel hosted by Republican Leader for the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN). Employers said that the enhanced benefits have become more attractive to employees than a steady paycheck and a healthy work environment–leaving these businesses struggling to meet the needs of the communities they serve.
Rep. Walorski introduced the event by saying, “I’ve heard from many business owners in my district about the severe labor shortage in Indiana – and specifically, the negative impact expansion of unemployment benefits has had on them… For us to rebuild our economy, we need to make sure temporary job losses don’t turn into permanent ones. As the vaccines roll out and states roll back restrictions on businesses, now is the time to reconnect workers with jobs.”
The roundtable featured nine employers, including manufacturers and restaurant owners, from multiple states, including Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. While the pandemic has hit these businesses hard, these enhanced benefits have become an additional obstacle to recovery.
Holly Wade, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses Research Center, said there are open jobs–but America is having trouble filling them. “Job openings in February reached an all-time record high for our survey, as 40% of small firms have an open position that they aren’t able to currently fill.”
Mark Owens, owner of USA Insulation and a trucking company, said: “We are short on workers, and I think this has a direct impact from the stimulus package and unemployment that’s out there… We are fighting, today, to keep our businesses alive.”
Alex Adams, Budget Director for the State of Idaho, said employers had difficulty getting workers back to the workplace—driven, to a large extent, by the disincentives created by the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits.
Chris Roth of Reinke Manufacturing in Deshler, Nebraska, said, “We ended up bringing employees in from out of state–we actually bussed them here!”
Herman Styles, a restaurant owner in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and former President of Missouri Restaurant Association, said, “The problem that we’ve got now is terrible. We’ve got a pent-up demand for the restaurant business, and we’ve got a lot of COVID money – whether it’s the $600- or $300-a-week incentive to not work, or the $1400 that’s coming up per person. We’ve got great business and nobody to take care of the customers.”
Burt Finklestein of Newnan, Georgia-based Kason Industries, said, “The past six or eight months business has turned back around, and we’re very, very busy. And we have an extreme problem now hiring people in Georgia.”
Phillip Hayes of the Wichita, Kansas-based Arnold Group said, “I’ll go as far to say that our company and hundreds of businesses that we serve have encountered more recruiting hurdles and struggles than ever before, largely due to the consequential additional Federal unemployment weekly boost dollars that were put in place.”
Jack McCoy of Peebles-Ohio-based McCoy Lumber, said, “Here at McCoy lumber, our most important – as it is in lots of companies I’m certain – our most important asset is our employees. … You have to encourage people and they need to be incentivized to work, and that gets to be a challenge when they’re making more money doing nothing than they are coming forward and doing something.”
Pat Pelly of Books and Brews in Charleston, West Virginia, said: “All my employees are great, and I love them all. They do a great job. But they know, deep down, that their friends are sitting at home making more money than them.”
Scott Asbjornson of Tulsa, Oklahoma-based AAON Heating and Cooling Products, said, “People who are offered employment are simply not returning communication to proceed.”
Tom Ponessa a business owner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said “I had several people, but one in particular started actually yelling and screaming at me. She was livid. And she said, ‘Mr. Ponessa, how can you expect us to come back to work when we’re going to be making two to three times more money not coming back to work.”
The partisan American Rescue Plan Act extended supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 per week until September 6. At this level, the American Action Forum estimates nearly 40% of workers receive more on unemployment than when they were working. Democrats have waged war on work by putting in place policies that make staying home and collecting unemployment benefits a rational financial decision for many families. Nobody should have to choose between earning a steady paycheck and making even more by not working at all.
This week, Ways and Means Committee Republicans, led by Ranking Member Brady, are re-introducing the “Reopening America by Supporting Workers and Businesses Act of 2021.” Rep. Brady introduced a similar version of the bill last year when supplemental benefits of $600/week were in place.
This bill will help local businesses rebuild their workforce quickly by allowing states to turn enhanced unemployment benefits into a one-time bonus of either $1,200 or $600 to provide a bump to workers, comparable to a hiring bonus. It also includes support for re-employment services for laid-off workers and reinstates the federal requirement that those receiving unemployment be engaged in actively searching for a job.
The goal of Committee Republicans is to offset the negative impact of the $300/week supplement and, instead, use those funds in a productive way that helps Main Street businesses and accelerates our economic recovery.