Gov. Edwards will likely approve early end to $300 unemployment supplement

Bill would end federal supplement by July 31

Gov. Edwards will likely approve early end to unemployment supplement
Residents ask for an increase in state unemployment benefits during a rally at the Louisiana Capitol.

Louisiana lawmakers on Thursday made a late-hour deal on legislation to discontinue the $300 federal unemployment supplement that the state provides out-of-work residents in exchange for raising the state’s regular unemployment benefits by about $28 per week. The bill heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who indicated he would likely sign it into law.

House Bill 183, sponsored by Rep. Chad Brown (R-Plaquemine), received final passage by lawmakers on the last day of the legislative session. Earlier versions of the bill proposed only a change to the tax withholding rules for unemployment recipients, but a Senate conference committee amendment tacked on modest increases to the regular weekly benefits and a provision that says the increases “shall become effective only if the state ceases and does not reinstate its participation in the federal government’s supplemental benefits program” by July 31.

Asked about the bill at a Thursday news conference that followed the adjournment of the legislative session, Gov. Edwards said he had already been discussing possible end dates to the federal supplement with Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Dejoie, and one of the tentative dates they came up with was Aug. 1.

“We had already discussed ending the federal benefits around the 1st of August, so the 31st of July is not a bad compromise,” Edwards said.

Still, the governor said he hasn’t fully made up his mind and will wait on a report from his economic advisor before committing to a decision on the bill.

The federal unemployment supplement, provided by the American Rescue Plan, is set to expire on Sept. 6, 2021, yet state lawmakers around the country have been pushing to end the benefits early.  They say the supplement has caused a labor shortage in certain sectors such as the service industry, but others dispute that argument.

Step Up Louisiana, a nonprofit that advocates for economic justice, sent out a press release to that effect Thursday evening.

“Step Up members who are unemployed rely on those funds to feed their families, pay their bills, and keep our local economy thriving,” Co-founder Benjamin Zucker said. “Workers are still unemployed in large numbers due to childcare obstacles and health concerns. Forcing workers off of unemployment prematurely will send more families to the food pantries, increase evictions, but not force more workers back to work as some representatives in our legislature wish they could do.”

Now that the legislative session is over, the governor has 20 days to either sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.