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Expanded Unemployment Benefits Harm Children, Hern Says

Chris Polansky
File photo of Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) addressing reporters in Tulsa on Aug. 16, 2020.

Republican Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma's first congressional district says that generous, pandemic-inspired unemployment benefits are harming American children.

"My childhood was marred by dependence on government aid that motivated my stepdad to stay at home rather than work," Hern said, appearing virtually at a hearing of the House Worker and Family Support Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 24. "My siblings and I bore that burden."

"Millions of children around the country today are experiencing the same hardships because their parents are incentivized to stay home," Hern said. "Exorbitant unemployment payments were a solution to a temporary problem last spring, but jobs are returning at record place and unfortunately there is a vacuum in the workforce. Where the government should be motivating Americans to fill the opening of jobs, the government is rewarding those who choose to stay home."

According to NPR's Planet Money, some research indicates that increased unemployment payments under last year's CARES Act did not correlate with reluctance to return to work, though conditions were examined during a different period of the pandemic. The article also notes that those receiving unemployment benefits are required to seek and accept work.

Hern, a businessman who owns numerous McDonald's franchise locations, invited Scott Asbjornson, chief financial officer of Tulsa's AAON, to testify before the subcommittee. 

"People who are offered employment are simply not returning communication to proceed," Asbjornson said, though he noted it was unclear if that was a result of COVID-19 unemployment policies.

President Biden and Congressional Democrats' American Rescue Plan passed and signed into law this month added billions of dollars in expanded unemployment assistance meant to provide financial relief to those affected by the pandemic. Hern, his four House colleagues in the Oklahoma delegation, and Oklahoma Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford -- all Republicans -- all voted against the relief package.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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