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'Cutting a safety net of time': Oklahomans respond to governor's new workforce plan

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 21:43:48-04

TULSA, Okla. — A fast-approaching deadline means some Oklahomans will have to scramble to find work.

The Gov. Kevin Stitt announced an incentive program to get people back to work. In another push to make that happen, he is also ending federal unemployment benefitstwo months early.

READ MORE: Gov. Stitt announces $1,200 workforce incentive, unemployment benefits end early

June 27 is when Oklahomans will stop getting federal unemployment benefits. Many of those receiving that help are self-employed and are concerned with the timing of this new expiration date.

“I feel like they are expecting a lot of people to accomplish a lot in six weeks,” said Randi McKinney, an Oklahoma City small business owner.

The announcement was made Monday. Standing beside Oklahoma Employment Security Commission personnel, Stitt announced the state will opt out of federal unemployment programs in June and revert to pre-pandemic benefits and eligibility requirements.

“Our challenge is not to get businesses back open. We've done that. It’s getting employees back to work,” Stitt said.

He hopes a $1,200 bonus to the first 20,000 Oklahomans who get off unemployment and get hired will also boost the workforce.

“It’s going to hurt more than it’s going to help,” McKinney said.

She believes the unreliability of benefits is incentive enough to get back to work.

“What I have with pandemic unemployment is $189 a week, if they pay me that week,” said McKinney.

While she barely gets by, the cushion of time is allowing her to restart a small business destroyed by the pandemic.

“The last thing we needed was for them to cut off this funding whenever we had a chance to use it to get over the summer and to figure out what needed to be done,” McKinney said.

For some, this is about much more than ending direct deposits. The new announcement is leaving parents to scramble.

“I've heard from parents who are concerned because they know that summer break is coming up and that their kids will be home,” said Mickey Dollens, Oklahoma state representative. “The whole point of congress extending the benefits until September was that’s when the new school year would begin.”

Online, the OESC posted various links to childcare resources and re-employment services.

The commission’s executive director said as of May 2, approximately 90,000 Oklahomans are receiving federal benefits that will see them end on June 27. That date is two months sooner than the expiration date set by Congress, which is Sept. 4.

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