LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas is ending its participation in the federal unemployment program that gives workers an additional $300 a week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday, citing a shortage of workers.
The Republican governor directed the Division of Workforce Services to end the state’s participation in the program after June 26. The federally funded additional benefits had been scheduled to run through early September.
Hutchinson said businesses in retail, restaurant and other sectors are trying to return to employment levels before the coronavirus pandemic, 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,” he said in a statement released by his office. “Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed.”
Arkansas’ unemployment rate was 4.4% in March, the most recent figure available, significantly lower than the national rate at 6%.
Hutchinson announced the decision the same day the U.S. Labor Department said, nationally, employers added just 266,000 jobs in April, sharply lower than in March and far fewer than economists had expected.
In a memo to the head of the state Division of Workforce Services, Hutchinson said continuing the state’s participation in the program would hamper employers’ ability to fill more than 40,000 job vacancies in the state.
But Arkansas AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes said fear of returning to unsafe conditions during the pandemic is what’s keeping workers away, not the additional payments.
Hutchinson has lifted the state’s restrictions because of the virus, including a statewide mask mandate and capacity limits for bars and restaurants. Hutchinson last week signed into law legislation that, starting in late July, will prevent any state or local mask requirements.
“They’re still concerned about their safety,” Hughes said. “Why put them in that danger again now?”