Stitt Announces Federal Unemployment Benefits Ending, State To Offer $1,200 Return To Work Incentive

May 17, 2021

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Monday Oklahoma will end federal enhanced unemployment benefits and start offering a $1,200 return to work incentive. He was joined by (from left) Ralph's Packing owner Erica Hering, State Chamber President and CEO Chad Warmington, and Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt, among others.
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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt confirmed Monday the state is pulling the plug on federal enhanced unemployment benefits on June 26.

Congress funded the additional $300 a week payments through early September by passing the American Rescue Plan. Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said state officials carefully considered their options.

"States are required to give the U.S. Department of Labor a 30-day notice to opt out of federal benefits, and many states gave their citizens just 30 days. Oklahoma has chosen to give claimants six weeks notice before ending benefits," Zumwalt said.

Citing employers struggling to fill positions, Stitt said instead, the state will use federal money to offer up to 20,000 people a $1,200 "return to work" incentive.

"You know, the best social program is a job. Ronald Regan said that. And it is so exciting to be part of a team and be part of a workforce. And so, we want to encourage people to get back to work," Stitt said.

The incentive will be offered to people currently receiving unemployment benefits who work for one employer a minimum of six consecutive weeks at 32 hours a week or more. The eligibility window is now through Sept. 4.

While there are widespread claims people are using the additional federal unemployment benefits to stay home and make more than they would working, Oklahoma reinstituted its work-search requirement for unemployment benefits. Labor department data show the number of people working in March was the highest since February 2020 and higher than January through April 2019.

Oklahoma has almost 4% fewer jobs available than it did a year ago and the current unemployment rate is similar to 2017 numbers.