SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah will terminate its participation in the federal government’s pandemic-related unemployment assistance program, Gov. Spencer Cox announced Wednesday
Utah is the latest of several states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana and South Carolina, ending the $300-a-week federal benefit paid on top of state benefits. Cox, a Republican, said those extra federal benefits will end in Utah on June 26.
“This is the natural next step in getting the state and people’s lives back to normal,” Cox said. “With the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.9% and plenty of good-paying jobs available today, it makes sense to transition away from these extra benefits that were never intended to be permanent.”
About 28,000 Utah residents are receiving the $300 benefit, and $12.4 million is being paid out by the federal government each week, the governor's office said in a statement. There are at least 50,000 job openings in the state, according to the Department of Workforce Services.
Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, applauded the decision and said there is a significant need for new employees in industries across Utah.
“The challenge our economy currently faces is not the scarcity of well-paying jobs, but the lack of workers," Miller said in a statement. "We need to normalize the labor market by assisting those currently unemployed to find opportunities to rejoin the workforce as soon as possible.”
Labor experts say the shortage is not just about the $300 payment. Some unemployed people also have been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus. Others have found new occupations rather than return to their old jobs.
Many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.
The left-leaning nonprofit Alliance for a Better Utah denounced the governor's decision to cut benefits and renewed calls for lawmakers to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 per hour.
“Every Utahn, regardless of where they live or their education level, deserves to be able to pay their bills, keep a roof over their head, and feed themselves and their families," Chase Thomas, the group's executive director, said in a statement. “We cannot afford, financially or morally, to return to a ‘normal’ where hardworking Utahns cannot afford to take care of themselves or their families.”