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White House signals GOP states can end enhanced benefits early

·3 min read

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Republican governors have "every right" to end federal enhanced unemployment benefits early — a possible signal the administration is unlikely to intervene when states begin to exit the programs starting as early as next week. 

To date, half of states, all led by Republicans, have announced they will end the increased $300 supplemental benefits in June and July, ahead of when they were scheduled to run out in early September. Most of the states have also announced they will end other unemployment programs created to help gig workers and self-employed people ineligible for traditional benefits as well as the program for those who have been unemployed for a long time and have exhausted state benefits.

Speaking to reporters Friday at the White House, Psaki emphasized that the exit to the programs have not yet taken effect in any state. She also noted that the president has never proposed making the benefits permanent or doing so over the long term. 

Progressive lawmakers and groups have pressured the administration to intervene in states moving to end them preemptively. Last month, a Labor Department official told CBS News the administration was looking at ways to keep workers from being cut off, but was struggling to find a solution. 

Republican officials in the 25 states moving to exit the programs raised concerns about workforce shortages and claimed the increased benefits were serving as a disincentive for people to return to work. Last month, President Joe Biden refuted those claims. But on Friday, the White House was less adamant. 

"I think that's a really difficult thing to analyze given we have created an historic number of jobs in the last four months," said Psaki. "And the UI benefits haven't been pulled back in any states," she added, saying it's a discussion they can have in the next few months. 

Later, she added that if the administration was concerned benefits were a disincentive, they would be ending them, but they're not. 

"I think the question is, do you think Americans, given that 7 million are still out of work, or more than that could benefit from eight more weeks or 10 more weeks of these $300 unemployment benefits. Our view is they can, and they should and that's an extra helping hand we can give to millions of people across this country."

This comes as the latest jobs report released Friday showed the economy added 559,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate ticked down to 5.8%. President Biden speaking on Friday said the United States was on the right track. But the economy remains down 7.6 million jobs from pre-pandemic levels. 

During his remarks Friday, Mr.t Biden said the temporary boost in unemployment benefits that were enacted helped people who lost their jobs and suggested they are still helping those in the process of getting vaccinated.

"But it's going to expire in 90 days. That makes sense, it expires in 90 days," Biden said. 

On Thursday, the weekly initial jobless claims report showed overall roughly 6.3 million people were on federal pandemic assistance for gig workers and more than 5 million people were on the pandemic-related benefits for those facing long-term unemployment in mid-May.

Some receiving the benefits have slammed the idea that benefits have kept them from seeking work, noting in some cases the benefits were well below what they would be making if employed full time, describing sending out resume after resume.