White House: States Have Right to Cut Off Unemployment

U.S. President Joe Biden walks toward Marine One for a departure at the Ellipse, south of the White House, June 2, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden will spend two nights at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

President Joe Biden is not among the Democrats prepared to fight tooth and nail to preserve pandemic-era unemployment benefits for workers in Republican-led states that are facing an early cutoff—at least, that’s if a remark by Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, is any indication. 

States have “every right” to back out early from federal pandemic unemployment programs, Psaki said at a press conference Friday. At least 25 states—every Republican-governed state except Massachusetts and Vermont—have announced they are withdrawing from participating in at least some of those unemployment programs as early as June, ahead of their September federal expiration dates.

"No one from the administration has ever proposed making them permanent or doing them over the long term,” Psaki said.

The programs, created early in the pandemic and extended through Sept. 6 by Biden’s American Rescue Plan relief bill, provided a $300 weekly supplement to regular state unemployment benefits; allowed normally ineligible contractors and gig workers to claim benefits; and extended the amount of time that people could stay on unemployment.

Republican politicians have said the benefits were discouraging people from working and creating a labor shortage, an assertion that’s been hotly contested by some economists. As of late in May, 4.8 million workers stood to lose benefits if all 27 Republican-governed states were to pull out early, according to an analysis by The Century Foundation think tank.

Psaki’s deference to Republican governors contrasts with progressives such as Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who told Politico he would do “whatever it takes to make sure people are not going to be forced into destitution” and preserve the benefits; and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who in May called on the Department of Labor to continue distributing checks to unemployed gig workers no matter what the states said. It’s also a change in tone from May, when Biden defended the unemployment benefits, saying there was no evidence they had caused labor shortage.

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  1. C-Span. "White House Daily Briefing."

  2. Congressional Research Service. "Unemployment Insurance Provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021."

  3. The Century Foundation. "Fact Sheet: What’s at Stake As States Cancel Federal Unemployment Benefits."

  4. Bernie Sanders. "Letter to Marty Walsh."

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