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Arkansas judge blocks cuts to unemployment despite disincentive to workers

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A judge in Arkansas ruled against Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s decision to halt pandemic unemployment benefits, ordering the state to resume them despite business owners saying they make it very hard to hire back staff.

On Wednesday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright issued a preliminary injunction for the state to get federal approval to resume the benefits.

Wright argued that the decision to end the payments was to be made by the Arkansas Legislature, not the governor.

“The court has serious doubts that the Governor and the Director of Workforce Services were acting within the scope of their duties, as these decisions would normally be the subject of legislation from the General Assembly,” he wrote.

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Wright also ordered the state to provide written proof if the federal government denies its request to resume the payments.

The decision comes two months after Hutchinson ordered the state to end its participation in the additional benefits after June 26, while they were scheduled to run through September. 

Arkansas, like many other states, saw many complaints from employers who claimed to have a hard time getting people to come back to work due to the benefits. 

A recent poll by Morning Consult found that more than 1.8 million unemployed Americans have turned down jobs throughout the pandemic due to the generosity of the unemployment benefits. Of the 5,000 surveyed who were actively collecting the benefits, 29 percent said they turned down job offers, according to the poll. 

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered an end to unemployment benefits after June 26.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered an end to unemployment benefits after June 26.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

The federal benefits give the unemployed an extra $300 a week, on top of state unemployment benefits that average $338 a week. The average of $638 per week in combined federal and state unemployment payments is the equivalent of $15.95 per hour for an employee working a 40-hour work week. 

While the federal program has roughly two months before it expires, 25 states have already or plan to withdraw to help lure workers back to work.

Last month, President Joe Biden confirmed he would let the program end after Labor Day. He and the White House have defended the benefits, and urged business owners to pay “higher wages” as an incentive for people to come back to work. 

— with Associated Press

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