At least five Republican-led states have extended unemployment benefits to people who’ve lost jobs over vaccine mandates — and a smattering of others may soon follow.

Workers who quit or are fired for cause — under which defying company policy would qualify — are generally ineligible for jobless benefits. But Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have carved out exceptions for those who won’t submit to the multi-shot coronavirus vaccine regimens that many businesses now require. Similar ideas have been floated in Wyoming, Wisconsin and Missouri.

Critics contend these states are incentivizing people to skip shots that public health experts say offer the best protection against a virus that has killed more than 800,000 Americans. Business leaders and industry groups have argued against the change because, they say, companies end up shouldering the costs. And the efforts are playing out as the Biden administration is pressing immunization rules for private companies and as coronavirus cases are surging again because of the fast-spreading omicron variant.

Observers say it’s a mark of the politicization of the coronavirus — with fights flaring over business closures, mask mandates and more — and how it has scrambled state politics and altered long-held positions. It wasn’t long ago, they note, that two dozen Republican-led states moved to restrict unemployment aid to compel residents to return to the workforce and ease labor shortages.

“These governors, who are using the unemployment insurance system in a moment of political theater to make a statement about the vaccine mandate, are the same folks who turned off unemployment benefits early for millions of workers over the summer,” said Rebecca Dixon, the executive director of the left-leaning National Employment Law Project. Arkansas, Iowa, Tennessee and Florida cut federal unemployment aid in June.

Read the full article in the Washington Post