On April 20th Georgia Governor Kemp called for “reopening more of the state’s economy to minimize the ‘terrible impact of Covid-19 on public health and the pocketbook.’” It would apply to certain non-essential businesses. Kemp, who was later told by Trump it was too early to reopen Georgia’s economy, was following Trump’s lead to begin to open state economies.
Many states like Georgia do not have the funds available (by choice) to pay for long periods of unemployment benefits and the magnitude of them from the shutdown. Indeed and in the past, Georgia cut unemployment benefits to 14 weeks. Georgia’s constitution also restricts the government from raising taxes and prevents the state governor from borrowing money.
From March to April 2020, Georgia paid out $220 million in unemployment benefits and just shy of what was paid out all of 2019 ($297 million). Forty percent of the unemployment benefit paid went to non-essential businesses employees who worked in health clubs, hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, and also eat-in restaurant employees. Most are low-wage jobs concentrated in the cities of Atlanta, Brunswick, Savannah and Statesboro. The make up of this segment of the labor force is mostly black citizens or citizens of color. In Georgia, 19% of African-American workers are employed in the service industry (2018 BLS Statistics). Governor Kemp calling back to work this segment of the labor force puts them at a greater risk to contract COVID 19. Many of them lack reliable access to healthcare (Georgia did not expand Medicaid). By allowing them to go back to work, the amount of unemployment being paid monthly decreases.
In a normal economy, an employee who’s been released or laidoff (automotive language) can not keep receiving unemployment benefits if they are offered their job back, a similar job, and they do not take it. Even with the threat of the COVID to their health and safety, Georgia can define a return to their old jobs as suitable work.
After the leap, Texas and Iowa . . .
April 24th, Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds; “If you’re an employer and you offer to bring your employee back to work and they decide not to, that’s a voluntary quit. Therefore, they would not be eligible for the unemployment money.” Besides calling employees back to work, Governor Reynolds is also loosening social distancing restrictions in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties, effective May 1. This action will make it easier for employers to have workers closer to each other.
On April 27th Texas Workforce Commission spokesperson; Cisco Gamez; Workers must be “willing and able to work all the days and hours required for the type of work they are seeking. Those who choose not to return to work will become ineligible for unemployment benefits. If workers have concerns about whether their employer is following health guidelines, they should contact the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. On April 28th, he later changed his statement saying “the agency is developing parameters for what might allow Texans to continue qualifying for unemployment insurance if they refuse to return to work at a business reopened by Gov. Greg Abbott’s loosened executive order because they fear contracting or spreading the coronavirus.”
On Monday April 27th in response to aid to states needing additional funding, Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell said; “it’s ‘highly likely’ the next coronavirus response bill will aid local governments whose budgets have been decimated by lockdowns and now face spiraling deficits. To qualify for the additional funding, McConnell added “he will insist that Congress limit the liabilities of health care workers, business owners, and employees from lawsuits as they reopen in the coming weeks and months.”
Bill Kristol responding to McConnell’s proposed quid pro quo offer to states , tweets”
“So the Republican position is employers should get a waiver of liability if their workplace turns out to be unhealthy, but employees should lose unemployment benefits if they won’t return to that unhealthy workplace. Will American capitalism survive the current Republican Party?”
Nancy LeTourneau @ Washington Monthly, “Kristol was referring to McConnell insisting that a provision limiting the liability of businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19 be included in the next coronavirus relief bill. Bill Kristol nailed it. For Republicans, employees must return to work or lose their unemployment benefits. But employers should not be held responsible if they fail to provide adequate protection in the workplace.”
Every time I see the words troubled times my mind slips back to the movie “Mr. Mom” and the commercial they ended up with as proposed by Caroline (Terri Garr).
“All of us here at Schooner Tuna sympathize with all of you hit so hard by these trying economic times. In order to help you, we are reducing the price of Schooner Tuna by 50 cents a can. When this crisis is over, we will go back to our regular prices. Until then, remember, we’re all in this together. Schooner Tuna, the tuna with a heart.”
This is a platitude meant to soothe the hurt feelings or the bad environment people have or find themselves in at the time. It is often times recited by those in power who having the capability to resolve the issue(s) at hand or provide a solution and instead take the political way . . . a few kind words letting them know they are with them in these tough times. The people most affected by the Kemps, Gamezs, and Reynold’s platitudes are the weakest amongst us. They can not afford alternative healthcare in the states that have not expanded Medicaid and neither can they afford babysitters to watch their children.
McConnell offers the 50 cent off solution to fund states but only if the states and Congress eliminate healthcare, employer, and employee (supervisor) liability if an employee forced back to work contracts COVID 19. But remember “we are all in this together” except for McConnell and Republicans who continue to punish the weakest amongst us. McConnell and Republicans have no heart for those who have little money and no political influence.