Oklahoma governor announces new workforce initiative and end to extended federal unemployment benefits

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma leaders say they are creating initiatives to get more Oklahomans back to work as COVID-19 cases continue to decline.

Following the withdrawal of the COVID-19 State of Emergency, Governor Kevin Stitt is joining Oklahoma Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt to announce a new workforce incentive.

In recent weeks, OESC has held several job fairs to help get Oklahomans back to work.

However, Zumwalt says that they have heard from many businesses across the state that they are struggling to find people to apply for the positions.

Gov. Stitt says the extended federal unemployment benefits to Oklahomans will end end early on June 26th.

Nationally the extended federal unemployment benefits will expire nationwide in September.

The state is also announcing an incentive plan to give eligible workers who return to the workforce $1200.

Return to Work Incentive Eligibility:

  •   Claimants currently receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) or UI from May 2 through May 15.
  •   Completed 6 weeks of continued employment of 32 hours of week or more with the same employer

The timeframe for eligibility for the incentive starts May 17, 2021 and will be ongoing through September 4, 2021. Claimants can begin uploading their information along with the six weeks of pay stubs starting June 28, 2021. Payments will begin dispersing the second week in July. The incentive is limited to the first 20,000 approved applicants.

“This is the right move for Oklahoma,” said Governor Stitt. “Since our state has been open for business since last June, the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma businesses today is not reopening, it’s finding employees. For Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state, workforce participation must be at a top level and I am committed to doing what I can to help Oklahomans get off the sidelines and into the workforce.”

“As we emerge from the pandemic, it is important we continue to focus on rebuilding our economy, which means we need more Oklahomans to participate in our state’s workforce,” said Shelley Zumwalt, OESC Executive Director. “With today’s announcement, which includes a strong return-to-work incentive program, OESC is placing top priority on helping claimants find stable employment or retraining opportunities. We have 28 offices across the state ready to help all of the state’s citizens who are eligible to work but currently are not working and the hundreds of employers who are struggling to find employees.”

Oklahoma State Senate Democrats oppose the plan.

“The governor’s new ‘back to work’ plan is proposed under the false assumption Oklahomans do not wish to return to work. Oklahoma’s current unemployment rate of 4.2% is actually lower than the average unemployment rate for the month of May from 2011-2019. The reality is that the pandemic is not yet over. For Oklahomans to get back to work, they need the assurance employers will make accommodations to keep them safe at work, their children have safe and quality childcare and their families have accessible healthcare in the event they contract COVID-19. Ending Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ahead of the September expiration is shortsighted.” 

St. Sen. Kay Floyd

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