Oklahomans discuss end of federal unemployment benefits

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahomans are discussing the end of federal unemployment benefits.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced six weeks ago that federal unemployment benefits would end on June 27.

“The federal government has created an incentive to stay at home instead of getting back into the work force,” he said.

“Employers are offering competitive wages and generous benefits and it still hasn’t moved the needle when they are forced to compete with the federal government,” Chad Warmington with the state Chamber of Commerce, said.

Some Oklahomans say not having the $300 weekly federal benefit makes things more difficult.

Rock Lenard, who remodels homes, says it’s hard to find jobs in his field.

“All the jobs they say we’ve got, they’re not out there. I mean, yeah, there’s a bunch of $8 an hour jobs out there cooking in fast food, but skilled trade, they’re not out there like they are,” he said.

Santoi Shirley says he doesn’t feel safe going back to work.

“Me and my wife, we’re worried about going back because of this Delta variant, there’s not a lot of people vaccinated in Oklahoma,” he said. “Just because there are jobs out there, that don’t mean that everybody is able to get those jobs. It might be different kinds of jobs, or people might what to change careers just because of the pandemic. I don’t want people to think it’s just because people want to be lazy, because that’s not the case.”

He references a case in Indiana where the state has to keep paying benefits until a lawsuit that challenged the governor’s decision to end federal payments is decided.

“That right there tells you that something is wrong this,” Shirley said.

Oklahoma is starting its $1,200 return-to-work incentive.

“Our challenge is not to get business back open, we’ve done that. It’s been getting employees back to work,” Stitt said.

Shirley says that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t feel safe.

“You’re still forcing people back to work when you’re not forcing people to get vaccinations, and that’s the problem,” he said.

For many, money is already tight.

“Right now, we’re already counting change to get things we need by the end of the month. Without it, that’s the start of the month after paying bills we’re counting change,” Lenard said.

OESC says people can start applying for the return-to-work incentive on June 28. The program will run until Sept. 4.

 

 

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