Bill Seeking to Stop Enhanced Unemployment Benefits Early Passes at Last Second
Legislation backed by the state’s most powerful business lobby that would end federally enhanced unemployment benefits five weeks early in exchange for a slight increase in state weekly benefits is headed to the Governor’s desk.
The bill by Plaquemines Democrat Chad Brown was one of the last pieces of legislation to gain final passage on the last day of the 2021 Legislative Regular Session. Under the bill, state benefits would go up $28 a week in 2022 if the Governor agrees to cease receiving federally-enhanced benefits by July 31st and does not rejoin the program. The $300-a-week boost to unemployment benefits is set to expire on September 6th.
The bill appeared dead earlier Thursday but Brown said the effort came back to life after a discussion with the Governor. Brown said Governor Edwards told him that he would consider ending the benefits early but wants to wait for the results of an economic impact study he commissioned before making a final decision. That study could be completed within the next few weeks.
Lawmakers didn’t have much time to object to the measure with less than an hour left in the session. One of the few to take the floor against the agreement was New Orleans Representative Mandie Landry, who said lawmakers are taking free federal money away from Louisiana’s poorest.
“I just can’t believe you are doing this: turning down federal money for people who had the hardest year of their lives. It’s based on junk science and no data,” said Landry. “It’s just really gross how we all forget how 20% percent of the state lives at or below the poverty level and, for most of you, people who live at or near poverty it is over a third of your district.”
But Brown said the compromise was a long-term win and solves a problem for business owners.
“I believe there are probably still sectors of our state that will probably say they still need participation in that federal benefit because of the lack of available jobs but I am also hearing from business owners in my area who say that ending the program is important to them for getting people back to work.”
The bill has the backing of the state’s largest business lobby, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. LABI had been calling for the end of federally-enhanced benefits.
(Story written by Matt Doyle/Louisiana Radio Network)