NELP Decries Montana’s Move to End Pandemic Unemployment Insurance

Following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:

“Montana Governor Greg Gianforte’s move to abruptly end the state’s participation in the fully federally funded pandemic unemployment insurance programs is cruel, ill-informed, and will disproportionately harm women and Indigenous people, who are suffering higher rates of unemployment in the state.

“While the statewide unemployment rate is 3.8%, the indigenous unemployment rate in Montana remains as high as 13.3% in some tribes. High unemployment rates continue to plague several counties, including Big Horn and Glacier Counties (9%) and Lincoln County (8.4%). Clearly, the statewide unemployment rate is an insufficient indicator of the state’s real labor market conditions.

“This move to end federally funded resources unfairly burdens Indigenous communities who have historically been deprived of resources. Ending these programs would leave approximately 25,000 people unable to support their families and would hurt thousands more when the state opts out of the program that provides unemployment compensation to people who cannot work because they are sick with COVID-19, caring for someone with COVID-19, or unable to find childcare.

“This crisis is far from over. Governor Gianforte needs to continue to support workers in order to promote a swift, just, and equitable recovery. After the Great Recession, states that cut benefits recovered slower than those with stronger UI programs. Montana may face the same fate, especially considering that every $1 of UI generates $1.61 that goes back into the local economy; moreover, UI has been proven to save jobs, prevent evictions, and keep people from being pushed further into poverty.

“Governor Gianforte’s plan to offer ‘return to work bonuses’ to a limited number of returning workers (capped at 12,500 people) is equally misguided. Return-to-work bonuses can become a tool to coerce workers to accept substandard jobs, rather than enabling workers to pursue quality jobs that provide financial security. Workers will eagerly return to good jobs that provide family-sustaining wages, safe working conditions, and adequate benefits. The biggest hindrance to economic recovery is a combination of substandard jobs and inadequate work supports such as childcare.

“Far from hindering the state’s recovery, unemployment benefits are vital to that recovery. Montana and Governor Gianforte should focus on real solutions that ensure all Montanans recover from the pandemic and recession.”

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