BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican House lawmakers on Thursday began advancing a proposal to offer Louisiana residents receiving unemployment up to $1,000 to go back to work, but only if they give up their right to claim jobless benefits for six months.
GOP lawmakers on the House labor committee added the language pushed by Rep. Mike Echols into a separate measure that sought to modestly increase the maximum weekly unemployment benefit offered in Louisiana. The vote to add the incentive provision was 6-5, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats in opposition.
The idea of a one-time bonus payment stems from Republican claims that expanded federal jobless benefits have depressed people’s interest in returning to employment, leaving businesses with difficulty finding workers as they dig out of the pandemic's damage.
“The intent of this legislation is to get people back to work as quickly as possible,” said Echols, a Monroe Republican. “Our businesses are struggling in this state, and this is an incentive.”
The payments to people who leave unemployment and gain jobs would be paid with federal coronavirus relief aid. People who return to work for 10 to 20 hours a week would be eligible for a $500 incentive payment. Those who return to work for an average of 30 hours or more a week would be able to receive a one-time lump sum of $1,000. The incentive payments would only be available to workers until July 1 and only to those whose wages don't exceed $75,000.
“This is just one tool to try to motivate folks,” Echols said.
While some businesses say they believe a $300-a-week extra federal jobless benefit is discouraging some unemployed from taking new jobs, government surveys also show people are reluctant to look for work because they fear contracting COVID-19. Others note that many women have dropped out of the workforce, likely to care for children or possibly others in their family.
Democrats on the House committee had objections about tying a work incentive payment with a ban on receiving unemployment for 26 weeks after acceptance of the funds. They suggested that not all jobs work out and people may need to return to jobless benefits for a host of unforeseen reasons.
“I'm concerned about the language,” said Rep. Tammy Phelps, a Shreveport Democrat.
Echols' proposal was added into a separate bill by Democratic Rep. Rodney Lyons, of Harvey, to raise the state's maximum weekly unemployment benefits — which are currently set at $247 — by $28. The legislation was a deal struck by business and labor associations. Lyons said he wasn't told of Echols' plan before his bill was hijacked to also include the incentive provision.
The add-on provision was praised by Dawn Starns McVea, Louisiana director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
“Last spring, Congress helped families impacted by the pandemic by providing additional unemployment benefits so they could get through the immediate crisis. Now, businesses are hiring again, but employers say hardly anyone is applying," McVea said in a statement.
The bill is filed as Senate Bill 610.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.