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Montana to end pandemic unemployment benefits amid worker shortage

"Incentives matter and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good," said Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte ended federal pandemic unemployment benefits but offered those currently on them $1,200 bonuses to return to work and keep their jobs for at least one month. File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte ended federal pandemic unemployment benefits but offered those currently on them $1,200 bonuses to return to work and keep their jobs for at least one month. File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

May 5 (UPI) -- Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced his state will be the first to stop participating in federal pandemic-related unemployment programs in a move to boost employment.

"Montana is open for business again, but I hear from too many employers throughout our state who can't find workers. Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage," the Republican governor said Tuesday in a press release.

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According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montana posted a near pre-pandemic 3.8% unemployment rate in March, which is the latest data available.

However, Gianforte said Tuesday there has been a record number of new jobs statewide for a labor force that shrunk by some 10,000 workers despite an influx in new residents.

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"Incentives matter and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good," he said. "We need to incentivize Montanans to re-enter the workforce."

According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, there are more than 14,000 jobs openings listed on its website.

To convince people to return to work, Montana's Department of Labor and Industry announced it would stop all federal pandemic-related unemployment programs.

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Starting June 27, Montana will no longer issue $300 weekly supplemental payments under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program and it will stop participating in the Pandemic Extended Unemployment Insurance, which extended unemployment benefits beyond the traditional 13 weeks to those who have exhausted traditional unemployment insurance benefits.

The state will also pull out of other pandemic programs, such as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits to the self-employed, the underemployed, independent contractors and those who have been unable to work due to their health or COVID-19-related reasons.

In its place, Montana will offer a so-called Return-to-Work Bonus initiative.

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Under the new initiative, those receiving unemployment benefits as of Tuesday will receive $1,200 if they gain employment that they keep for at least four weeks.

"Our labor shortage doesn't just affect employers and business owners," said Laurie Esau, commissioner of Labor and Industry for the state. "Employees who are forced to work longer shifts, serve more customers or clients and take on more duties have been paying the price."

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