Lankford: Percentage-Based Payments 'Worst-Case Scenario' for Federal Unemployment Benefit

Jul 30, 2020

Oklahomans needing unemployment claim help wait to be called during a processing event July 24 at Expo Square in Tulsa.
Credit Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

With Republicans and Democrats in a stalemate, the U.S. Senate left until Monday without extending federal unemployment benefits that expire Friday.

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said renewing $600 a week on top of what states offer was too much. Lankford told NPR’s David Greene on "Morning Edition" he supported the GOP plan for $200 in weekly payments through September.

"It’s not full wage replacement or in excess of your normal wages. It’s less than your normal wages because there’s no way the federal taxpayer can replace everyone’s wages across the entire country for an indefinite period of time. That’s taking from your next-door neighbor, that’s taking from your children and your grandchildren," Lankford said.

Republicans had floated additional benefits of 70% of someone’s normal pay. Lankford said state systems like Oklahoma’s, which runs on a 35-year-old computer platform, struggled enough to add the $600 in enhanced benefits.

"Changing it to a percentage, as Shelley would tell you from our state, would be the worst-case scenario if you’re just going to do a percentage. So, what we have to do is get a rolling average. That’s going to be high for some, it’s going to be a little bit low for some," Lankford said.

Lankford was referring to Shelley Zumwalt, interim director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. During the coronavirus pandemic, OESC has received thousands of claims more than it was set up to process.