LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday that Arkansas will opt out of a federal supplemental unemployment assistance program late next month.
Saying the federal program, which added an extra $300 per week for unemployment assistance, served a good purpose in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hutchinson said it was now time to get, “Arkansans back on the job.”
“The programs were implemented to assist the unemployed during the pandemic when businesses were laying off employees and jobs were scarce,” Governor Hutchinson said. “As we emerge from COVID-19, retail and service companies, restaurants, and industry are attempting to return to prepandemic unemployment levels, but employees are as scarce today as jobs were a year ago. The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this tough time, so it served a good purpose. Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed.”
A number of employers around the state have voiced frustrations over challenges they say they are facing getting people to come back to work.
Arkansas is the third state in the last few days to make such a decision. Governors in Montana and South Carolina have also moved their states away from the federal program.
Hutchinson said he had directed the Division of Workforce Services to end participation in the program on June 26.
In a letter to the DWS, the governor said the state’s unemployment is one of the lowest in the nation at 4.4%, adding in part that the “extraordinary federal unemployment measures” put in place last year have “accomplished their purposes” and keeping them in place “actually interferes with the ability of employers to fill over 40,000 job vacancies in Arkansas.”
Hutchinson is technically opting out of six different programs providing those extra benefits to different groups, which also does include government entities and non-profits.
His letter also directed DWS to provide maximum job search assistance to those who are still receiving those benefits. The move does not affect state benefits still in place, just the added federal benefits.
Several Republican leaders were quick to applaud the move. Senate Majority Leader Scott Flippo said the decision will “put more Arkansans back to work.”
“The Arkansas Senate Republican Caucus fully supports the Governor’s action today. We have heard from our constituents and job creators for the last few months about the difficulties of hiring and retaining their workforce. This action today will put more Arkansans back to work and sustain Arkansas jobs for years to come.”Republican Senator Scott Flippo, Senate Majority Leader, on behalf of the caucus
State Commerce Secretary Mike Preston echoed that statement, noting the programs had helped Arkansans through the pandemic but adding that now was the time to fill the more than 45,000 jobs open across the state.
“In a time of crisis, these programs served a great purpose that helped thousands of Arkansans get the assistance they needed to stay afloat,” Preston said in a statement. “Now with more than 45,000 jobs available across the state, we are open for business and our citizens have the opportunity to get the job they want.”