On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Texas will be opting out of President Joe Biden’s federal unemployment benefits package. This means that Texans who filled for unemployment will no longer receive a $300 weekly check from the federal pandemic relief program effective June 26.
In the statement, Abbott writes that since the Texas economy is thriving and there are more job openings than people looking for jobs this aid isn’t necessary.
“For this reason, the State of Texas will continue to focus its efforts on connecting Texans with these job opportunities so they can find meaningful employment to provide for their families,” Abbott wrote.
Texas Democrats immediately spoke out against Gov. Abbott’s decision to opt out of benefits including Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro.
Texas unemployment rate is still double its pre-COVID level. Gov. Abbott’s rejection of the $300 weekly federal jobless aid will hurt over 300,000 Texans.
“There’s scant evidence that money in people’s pockets is holding our economy back. This is partisan politics at its worst,” Castro tweeted.
In an interview with the Signal, President of Texas AFL-CIO Rick Levy said workers and organizers were “pissed” when they heard Abbott’s announcement.
“It’s a really important safety net for workers,” Levy said. “It’s not welfare, it’s insurance.”
Levy also said that Abbott’s decision to opt out of the federal benefits will not only harm workers, but businesses as well.
“If you’re given $300 to unemployed workers there are not a lot of workers that are taking that money and setting up offshore tax havens in the Cayman islands,” Levy said. “That money is being spent on kids shoes, kids clothes, meals, medicine, rent and flowing into the community.”
Texas Workforce Commission’s Deputy of Communications James Bersen emailed to the Signal that Gov. Abbott referenced these numbers in his press release.
There were approximately 1,022,000 jobs open in Texas as of May 11.This compares to 645,000 jobs in February, 2020 which is a 58.4 percent increase.
In an interview on Fox News, Abbott said businesses across the state were complaining about the lack of people looking for employment and a number of the claims filed were fraud.
“About 18 percent of all the unemployment claims that were filled were fraudulent claims filed,” Abbott said. “So we need to get people off the unemployment line and get them back into the workforce so they can be earning a paycheck.”
Bersen wrote in terms of fraud the Texas Workforce Commision paid out $50 billion in unemployment insurance benefits since the pandemic began. The dollars of fraud attempted during that time is about $10.2 billion.
Although Levy said he understands that there is a possibility of fraudulent claims, Abbott’s decision still doesn’t address workers’ issues. He also said the implication that workers are lazy and don’t want to go back to work is “offensive.”
“We have a lot of members in the hospitality industry or in the entertainment industry and their whole industry was wiped out,” Levy said. “To say there is a job for a short order perk at Arby’s so these folks should get their money taken away ignores the reality of people’s lives.”
Levy also said that if it’s true that people are making more money on unemployment than working then businesses should look at how much they are paying their workers.
“You have corporations making greater profits than they’ve ever made before and now you’re going to take away the $300 for unemployed workers because you think they’re being lazy and not going to work,” Levy said. “ How about we pay people a little bit more.” According to statistics, Texas has not seen an increase in the $7.25 minimum wage since 2010 even though the cost of living has increased.
Photo: Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images
Kennedy is a recent graduate of the University of St.Thomas in Houston where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Celt Independent. Kennedy brings her experience of writing about social justice issues to the Texas Signal where she serves as our Political Reporter. She does everything from covering crime beats, Texas politics, and community activism. Kennedy is a passionate reporter, avid reader, coffee enthusiast, and loves to travel.