When Rebecca Urie lost her job as a laboratory technician in West Virginia last March, the weekly extra federal unemployment benefits became a lifeline.
“There’s no way that we could have survived without the federal supplement,” she told ABC News.
Urie said the benefits amount to about half of her previous weekly salary, but they were enough to care for her two children, who are both autistic.
“Both of them have specialized care, and you just don’t know from one minute to the next if you’re going to keep your health insurance to take care of your children’s needs,” she said.
But the federal aid will soon dry up for Urie and millions of Americans across the country. West Virginia is one of 25 states, including Texas, Florida, Maryland and Iowa, led by Republican governors putting an early end to the supplemental $300 weekly unemployment benefits.
The benefits were funded through Sept. 6 as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, but will now end in those states between mid-June and early July.
“Our businesses are pleading with our people: we’ve got to have you back at work,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said at a press conference last month.
Republican lawmakers point to anecdotes from businesses across the country that say they are struggling to hire workers, despite high unemployment. Data released Thursday by the Labor Department showed more than 15 million Americans are collecting some form of unemployment benefits as of mid-May.
“I’m just not sure extra unemployment benefits are necessary at this point when there’s not really a need to be unemployed at this point,” Sarah White, who manages three restaurants in Virginia, told ABC News.
White says her restaurants are facing a severe worker shortage, with only one out of roughly every 10 applicants showing up to interview.
“One girl put it very, very blunt to me; she said, ‘I know I make less to take the unemployment, but when am I ever going to get to make this much money to sit home and have a great summer,’” White said.
Economists argue expanded unemployment benefits are a small piece of the worker shortage puzzle, pointing to other factors like a lack of child care and concerns about COVID-19 health risks.
Urie said she has applied to up to 30 jobs per week over the past year but rarely receives calls back. She says that employers are unwilling to be flexible with hours that would enable her to work full-time and care for her children.
“You have so many people with now hiring signs, but they’re not the type of companies that will work with your needs if you have a special needs child,” Urie said.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said it would take time for the economy to recalibrate after it went from being shut down to reopened in a matter of weeks. According to the Labor Department, new unemployment insurance claims dropped to 385,000 last week – the lowest level since the start of the pandemic.
“Literally overnight, you’ve had millions of job openings,” he told ABC News. “So this is something we’ve never seen before.”