Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday directed the Division of Workforce Services to end Arkansas' participation in the federal supplemental unemployment assistance after June 26.
"The programs were implemented to assist the unemployed during the pandemic when businesses were laying off employees and jobs were scarce," Hutchinson said in a news release. "As we emerge from COVID-19, retail and service companies, restaurants, and industry are attempting to return to prepandemic unemployment levels, but employees are as scarce today as jobs were a year ago.
"The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this tough time, so it served a good purpose. Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed."
The governor said Montana and South Carolina have already opted out of the federal pandemic unemployment assistance programs, which are scheduled to end Sept. 4.
Congress approved an enhanced federal supplement to state unemployment income last year as part of its response to the layoffs caused by the pandemic and related restrictions. The first federal supplement was $600 a week, which lasted 17 weeks last year and ended in July. A new congressional appropriation in January included a lower federal supplement of $300 a week.
In a letter to Workforce Services Director Charisse Childers, Hutchinson cited Arkansas' 4.4% unemployment rate in March, which is below the national average and 0.6% above the pre-pandemic level. He said he's "confident" that the federal unemployment help that's been in place for more than a year "have accomplished their purposes."
"Continuing these programs until the planned expiration date of September 4, 2021, is not necessary and actually interferes with the ability of employers to fill over 40,000 job vacancies in Arkansas," he wrote.
Hutchinson's announcement also follows today's U.S. jobs report, which showed employers added 266,000 jobs in April— well below the 1 million some analysts expected.
U.S. companies have added jobs for four straight months, according to the report, though the government lowered its estimate of job growth for February and March by a combined 78,000. April's total is far below March's gain of 770,000.
Hutchinson's directive will remove Arkansas from these programs:
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program
- Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation
- Emergency Unemployment Relief for Governmental Entities and Nonprofit-Organizations
- Temporary Federal Funding of the First Week of Compensable Regular Unemployment for States with No Waiting Week