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Thousands of Utahns to be affected when pandemic aid ends

Posted at 6:11 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 20:46:55-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will end statewide Saturday. The move is expected to impact around 28,000 Utahns.

"The important message is that unemployment insurance is going to return to its pre-pandemic levels," said Kevin Burt, Assistant Deputy Director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS).

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All four of the pandemic-related assistance programs will end Saturday, which was announced by Governor Spencer Cox in a townhall video posted to his Facebook page.

"One of the ones that will be ending this week is the $300 a week stimulus payment," Burt added.

Along with the stimulus, the unemployment extension for those who've exhausted state benefits, and the temporary benefits for the self-employed and gig-workers will also expire.

Even though the program expires Saturday, Burt said those on unemployment should still file for the week.

"They'll report what happened this week, that they looked for work that they didn't earn wages, that they are still able and available," he said. "Then they will be paid for unemployment insurance this week. That payment goes out next week."

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DWS wants to remind people that state unemployment benefits will continue, now back to their pre-pandemic rates and regulations; meaning benefits are capped at 26 weeks and those receiving benefits will be required to actively look for and apply to jobs.

"We will constantly reassess, and if you are eligible for state benefits, we will shift you back to those state benefits," Burt added.

With the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the country — at 2.7% as of May — and between 50,000 to 75,000 open positions around the state, DWS said the decision to end the federal benefits early was based on Utah's economic performance, as well as vaccine availability.

"These unemployment insurance[s] absolutely made sense early in the pandemic," Burt said. "There was business restrictions, there was a health pandemic where individuals had to stay home, the vaccine was not readily available, but the current situation in the state of Utah is certainly different."

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In total, 26 states are ending the benefits early, before they are set to expire in September. Most leaders in those states said the continuation of the benefits is hurting the labor market and creating a disincentive to return to work.

"I just, philosophically, don't believe that the government should be competing against the private sector to keep people out of the workforce," said Governor Cox in his May 12 town hall video posted to Facebook.

University of Utah economics professor, and labor economics specialist, Tom Maloney disagrees.

"I don't think that unemployment insurance has had a big impact on holding people out of work," Maloney said. "There's been tremendous job growth at the bottom of the wage distribution, which is not what you'd expect if you thought supplemental unemployment was holding people out because those are the people that you would expect to be attracted by that."

He added that we cannot apply typical expectations to an unprecedented economic event.

"It shouldn't be surprising that supply and demand in the labor market may not, you know, yet have met up just given the scale and the pace of this disruption," he said.

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DWS said there are still a wide variety of state resources available to those who need help finding a job.

"We have job counselors; we have people that will help with interview and resumé writing," Burt said. "We have re-training funds to help individuals get trained into a different field if that is what they are interested in."

The department also has resources for those who need financial assistance. Including the Utah Rent Relief program, which has more than $180 million set aside, and the Home Energy Assistance Target (HEAT) program which will help pay monthly energy costs.