Montana governor pulls out of COVID federal unemployment programs: 'We should be incenting work'

'Unemployment benefits should be a safety net, not a career choice,' Greg Gianforte argues

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte argued Wednesday that there has been "a continual stream of initiatives out of Washington that disincent work," explaining that his state decided to get rid of supplemental benefits and is offering a back-to-work bonus in order to incentivize people to get back into the workforce.

Gianforte made the comments on "Cavuto: Coast to Coast" while explaining what was behind his decision to end Montana's participation in federal COVID-19 unemployment programs. He also discussed the start of the new state program to give people "Return to Work" bonuses.

"Nobody starts life hoping they’re going to grow up and become dependent on the government," Gianforte told host Neil Cavuto. "We need unemployment as a safety net for folks that find themselves in a rough spot, but it shouldn’t be a permanent status." 

"That’s why we’re doing away with these supplemental benefits, we’re reinstituting work requirements and we’re putting this incentive to go back to work," he continued, noting that he is "a free-market guy."

"We should be incenting work, not sitting at home," Gianforte stressed. 

Gianforte announced the move to pull his state out of federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance programs and returning to the "pre-pandemic" unemployment eligibility requirements by the end of June in a press release Tuesday.

"Montana is open for business again, but I hear from too many employers throughout our state who can’t find workers," Gianforte said in the news release. "Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage."

Speaking with Cavuto, Gianforte stressed that "Montana is open for business."

He noted that when he was sworn in as governor in January "we immediately lifted the impractical government mandates," including capacity limits and the statewide mask mandate. Gianforte then noted as the Montana economy has opened up, "employers can’t find workers." 

"Restaurants are having to shut down for days because they can’t find cooks or wait staff," he said explaining why he decided to end the supplemental unemployment benefits. 

"Honestly we got what we incented," Gianforte continued. "We were incenting people not to work so we made the decision to opt out of the federal supplemental unemployment benefits and replace it with a back-to-work bonus."

He pointed out that people "can make more money staying home" compared to going back to work with the supplemental federal benefits. He acknowledged that the added benefits "may have been necessary during the height of the crisis, but frankly unemployment benefits should be a safety net, not a career choice." 

Gianforte explained that the "Return to Work" bonus is a $1,200 payment to Montanans receiving unemployment benefits as of Tuesday who stay in a job for a month. 

"We have about 25,000 people here in Montana on unemployment as of today," he told Cavuto. "If they were on unemployment all they have to do is go get a job." 

"If they stay at work for four weeks they get a $1,200 check and it also means that if they get that check, they can’t then refile for unemployment," he explained. "So this is a one-way ticket back into the job force." 

Gianforte’s announcement pulls Montana out of the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance federal assistance programs. Montana is the first state to pull out of federal COVID-19 unemployment assistance programs.

Gianforte explained that what motivated the move was hearing from small businesses in the state.

"They can’t open up," he said. "We have restaurants that are shutting down a couple days a week because they can’t find staff."


He then noted that Montana is entering "into tourist season."

"If we don’t have the wait staff, hotel staff, cooks, carpenters we’re not going to be ready for all the visitors coming to Montana," Gianforte stressed. "This is about being ready and getting all of Montana back to work."


Fox News’ Houston Keane contributed to this report.