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Members of Workforce Development Council Worry Federal Unemployment Benefits Will Keep Workers Home

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Some members of the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development are concerned the additional $600 a week in federally funded unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic will keep workers from returning when their employers reopen.

The Frontier first reported on the council's meeting. Council member Chad Mariska heads a Broken Arrow–based fire protection systems company and asked about decreasing benefits.

"Is there a way that we could lever the state unemployment piece of that formula kind of down so that people can’t get a total combined amount that is greater than what an employee was making pre- getting laid off or furloughed?" Mariska said.

The state cannot decrease its unemployment benefits while it’s receiving the additional federal funds. Those are set to end July 31.

The state could tell the federal government it no longer wants the additional $600 a week, but Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Deputy Director Teresa Keller said employers already have a way to respond.

"If there is a claimant out there that says, ‘You know what? I can make more money sitting at home drawing this extra $600 and some other benefits,’ then if the employer will contact us, that is considered a refusal of suitable work, and we will cut off their benefits," Keller said.

More than 200,000 Oklahomans have filed for unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic. The state has received about $4.6 billion so far in Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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