‘We do not want people on unemployment’: Governor announces Idaho will pull out of federal unemployment programs

Extra payments and benefits for self-employed workers will end in June for claimants

By: - May 11, 2021 4:47 pm
A McDonald's in Boise advertises it is hiring for $11 per hour.

In this file photo from 2021, a Boise McDonald’s restaurant advertises it is hiring for $11 per hour. By April 2022, the store raised that advertised hourly wage to $14 to attract workers in a low-unemployment economy. (Audrey Dutton/Idaho Capital Sun)

Gov. Brad Little announced in a press release Tuesday that Idaho will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment compensation programs as of June 19, citing the programs as a reason employers across the state can’t find people to fill jobs.

“Employers are telling me one of the big reasons they cannot recruit and retain some workers is because those employees are receiving more on unemployment than they would while working,” Little said in a press release. “We see ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere. … My decision is based on a fundamental conservative principle – we do not want people on unemployment. We want people working. A strong economy cannot exist without workers returning to a job.”

The following federal programs that will end include:

  •  Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional $300 weekly payment for claimants
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which benefits those who would not usually qualify for unemployment, such as self-employed workers
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted

Chip Schwarze, chairman of the Idaho Chamber Alliance, said in the release that the organization and chambers of commerce throughout the state support Little’s decision. 

“We feel that this is an important next step to helping businesses recover, and we look forward to working with the governor’s office as we seek ways to improve workforce availability for Idaho’s businesses,” Schwarze said.

The Idaho Department of Labor also recently reinstated the pre-pandemic work search requirements for unemployment insurance claimants. The requirement was lifted during the pandemic but reinstated in April.

The Idaho Department of Labor, Workforce Development Council, State Board of Education and other entities are working to address workforce barriers such as the availability of child care, matching worker skills to the needs of employers and increasing the labor force participation rate, according to the release.

In a drafted response, members of the Idaho Joint Democratic Caucus responded to Little’s actions.

“Unemployment benefits, by definition, are a fraction of what people earned before they lost their job. The enhanced benefit helps families keep up with rent, utilities, groceries, and other basic necessities,” Assistant House Democratic Leader Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said. “Gov. Little’s decision shows that he is out of touch with working Idahoans.”

The release highlighted research showing the enhanced benefit of $600 per week that was available earlier in the pandemic had little to no impact on employment, while the current enhanced benefit is half that amount.

“Too many low wage workers do not have access to affordable child care,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said in the release. “We cannot forget that the pandemic caused the shutdown of approximately 220 child care centers in Idaho. Well-paid workers even struggle to afford child care, and the lower wage earners are in an even tougher predicament. People cannot go back to work if they do not have child care or children back in school full time.”


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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.