Last year after we finally accepted the pandemic was a real thing, it was a shock to our way of life.
As the numbers became worse, we watched businesses being forced to close their doors because they were not “essential”. Others had limited hours due to either state or federal restrictions and had to reduce their workforce because of the changes in operating hours.
Soon their hours became limited because people were getting sick, and they had to worry about spreading the virus to employees and customers.
Congress finally answered the call from their constituents about some financial assistance for people who were out of work due to nothing they had done.
Stimulus checks were sent out on three different occasions. The first one was for $1,400 plus $500 for each dependent child. The second one was for $600 per individual household member. The last one was for $1,400 per household member.
Changes were made to help those people who lost their jobs or were temporarily laid off due to the pandemic. The federal government agreed to give unemployed workers an additional $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits. The benefit amount was later changed to $300 per week and was set to expire in March of 2021.
This was a great benefit as it helped people to pay their rent and feed their families during the darkest days of the pandemic.
In March Congress passed the American Rescue Plan and it was signed into law by President Biden. The reported intent of the legislation was to provide significant relief for struggling families, workers, farmers, governments and industries.
As with so many things that are left up to our powerful wizards in Washington, not much thought was given to the details in the new law before it was approved.
That was evident when there was a collective gasp after the release of the April jobs’ report. It showed there were only 266,000 jobs added and was called a “massive disappointment.” Considering they had forecasted the number to be almost a million, that was an understatement.
Did anyone read the part about the extended unemployment benefits people would receive?
States have a limit on how many weeks a person can stay on unemployment. Most provide 26 weeks with some providing only 12 weeks, and others allow 30. The new law extends benefits for an additional 24 weeks. Under the new package, benefits can be extended up to 53 weeks. That is a whole year, folks!
We now have a problem of a different sort. The lack of workers has created a shortage of employees in health care, construction, manufacturing, hospitality and leisure industries.
Some states have decided to take the matter into their own hands.
South Carolina, Montana and Arkansas announced they will end federal pandemic unemployment benefits next month.
Montana’s governor said he believes this is a necessary step because the expansion of benefits is “now doing more harm than good.” They plan to use their federal money to offer $1200 return-to-work bonuses.
Earlier this week Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced Alabama will no longer accept the federal unemployment assistance after June 19.
These benefits were intended to be a short-term financial assistance bump for people displaced by the effects of the pandemic.
A year later, the relief program has now contributed to a labor shortage.
The National Restaurant Association found that staffing is down 20 percent from a year ago and some fast-food establishments may not be able to re-open their dining rooms at all this year.
Locally, we have seen what the shortage of workers has done. Every other business has a sign either announcing limited hours or closings because of the lack of personnel. Most have help wanted signs posted.
A recent article in the New York Times listed four reasons why there is a labor shortage in this country.
The first was the enhanced benefits being given to workers. Second was the concern people have about contracting the virus. Third was the need to be at home because some children are not in school and are still doing on-line classes. Last was the belief that workers are holding out for higher wages and want businesses to become desperate enough to pay more.
Regardless of the reason, the lack of workers will certainly result in permanent closure of some businesses and that is bad for the economy.
People are venturing out more every day. They are getting on planes, going to the gym, eating in restaurants, and enjoying indoor and outdoor activities.
If people can go unmasked to the Walmart, then they can go to work.
It is time for a reality check and states must end the free ride if we ever expect to see normal again.
Anita McGill is a former publisher of The Sentinel. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.