Louisiana became the first Democratic-run state to drop out of a federal unemployment program that provided out-of-work Americans with an extra $300 a week in aid.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday signed a bill terminating the federal pandemic unemployment programs on July 31 in exchange for raising the state's weekly maximum jobless benefit to $275, beginning in 2022.
Louisiana joins 25 other states, all led by Republican governors, that will prematurely end the supplemental unemployment benefits, a move they contend will help businesses that are struggling to hire employees. It will also opt out of two separate programs, which provided jobless benefits to gig workers and others typically not eligible for benefits and extended state unemployment benefits once they have been exhausted.
The programs – which were established in March 2020 and twice extended by Congress – are not slated to expire until Sept. 6, 2021.
There remain about 7.4 million fewer jobs than there were in February 2020, before the pandemic shut down broad swaths of the nation's economy. Louisiana's unemployment rate, at 7.3%, represents about 150,000 jobless Americans out of a workforce of about 2 million.
Unemployment benefits in the state currently max out at $247 a week. With the federal supplement, Americans are receiving a maximum of $547 in weekly unemployment benefits. (For comparison's sake, that's about $28,000 annually, or nearly 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.
Still, Biden has emphasized that the unemployment benefits will end in September as planned, despite momentum among some of his party's members to make the extra money permanent.
"It’s going to expire in 90 days," Biden said recently. "That makes sense."
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming will also end at least one of the three pandemic unemployment programs sometime over the summer.
Some 16 million Americans are poised to lose their unemployment benefits earlier than expected, according to one estimate published by the Century Foundation.