Money Matters

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to cut off federal pandemic unemployment benefits next month

Texas gov. cuts off federal pandemic unemployment benefits next month

Gov. Greg Abbott
The $300 weekly pandemic unemployment benefits end next month. Greg Abbott/Instagram

Texas is ending federal unemployment benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic effective June 26, Gov. Greg Abbott says.

The aid includes the $300-a-week unemployment supplement from the federal government’s pandemic unemployment compensation program. The weekly $300 payments, which had been scheduled to end September 6, are tacked onto regular unemployment benefits.

In a May 17 news release, Abbott cites the state’s “booming” economy as a reason for withdrawing from the program. The governor says nearly 60 percent more job openings are listed in Texas now than in February 2020, the month before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

“At this stage of opening the state 100 percent, the focus must be on helping unemployed Texans connect with the more than a million job openings, rather than paying unemployment benefits to remain off the employment rolls,” the government’s statement says.

Abbott adds that nearly 18 percent of Texas unemployment claims filed during the pandemic have been fraudulent or are suspected of being fraudulent. The more than 800,000 claims in this category total as much as $10.4 billion.

“Fraudulent unemployment claims rob taxpayer money and do nothing to help the unemployed,” the statement says.

In a May 13 letter to Abbott and Bryan Daniel, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, more than three dozen Texas business organizations urged halting the state’s participation in the federal unemployment initiative. They say the $300 a week in benefits is “disincentivizing work” and creating a “major barrier” to filling jobs.

“We are hearing from our constituencies all over the state that finding and hiring workers in Texas is increasingly difficult. Important Texas jobs are going unfilled, threatening our state’s recovery and economic future,” the organizations say in the letter.

Among the organizations that endorsed the request are the Texas Association of Business, National Federation of Independent Business, Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, Texas Restaurant Association, and Texas Retailers Association, and chambers of commerce in Bastrop, Boerne, Cedar Park, Cibolo, Elgin, Fort Bend, Frisco, Galveston, Rowlett, Tomball, Schertz, and Selma.

“While the initial federal unemployment supplement was needed at the height of the pandemic, its continuance for those who are eligible to work is keeping businesses from unleashing the full might of the Texas economy,” Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, says in a news release.

Absent from the letter are the chambers of commerce representing the state’s five largest cities: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

In a May 17 tweet, Sawyer Hackett, executive director of Julian Castro’s People First Future initiative, criticized Abbott’s decision and noted that 1 million Texans remain out of work due to the pandemic.

“The supplemental assistance doesn’t cost Texas anything,” Hackett wrote of the federal benefits.

Castro, a 2020 Democratic candidate for president, is the former mayor of San Antonio and former director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO labor union, joins Hackett in slamming Abbott’s move.

“We can’t even imagine the thinking behind Gov. Abbott’s callous decision to strip the remaining federal unemployment insurance benefits out of the pockets of Texas working families,” Levy says. “If he took the time or had any interest in understanding the challenges working people face, Gov. Abbott would see clearly that folks across Texas desperately need these funds as they try to navigate their way through the economic carnage of the pandemic.”