OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt announced a new workforce incentive during a news conference Monday.
Stitt said the Return to Work Incentive is for Oklahomans who are unemployed.
According to the governor, the first 20,000 Oklahomans who are on unemployment and get back into the workforce would receive a $1,200 incentive through the American Rescue Plan.
Stitt said all federal unemployment benefits will end June 26. The federal unemployment was previously set to expire September 4.
“This is the right move for Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “Since our state has been open for business since last June, the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma businesses today is not reopening, it’s finding employees. For Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state, workforce participation must be at a top level and I am committed to doing what I can to help Oklahomans get off the sidelines and into the workforce.”
"As we emerge from the pandemic, it is important we continue to focus on rebuilding our economy, which means we need more Oklahomans to participate in our state's workforce," Zumwalt said. "With today's announcement, which includes a strong return-to-work incentive program, OESC is placing top priority on helping claimants find stable employment or retraining opportunities. We have 28 offices across the state ready to help all of the state's citizens who are eligible to work but currently are not working and the hundreds of employers who are struggling to find employees."
Oklahoma employers praised the governor's decision.
Every employer I speak with, inside or outside of the state, is struggling to recruit workers. While federal programs provided needed benefits at the height of the pandemic when businesses were forced to shutter, these benefits have now incentivized workers to remain on unemployment after we have safely reopened our economy. Employers are offering competitive wages with generous benefits packages and workers are still refusing to return to work. It was time to stop disincentivizing hope and opportunity for Oklahomans. Gov. Stitt recognizes there is no government program that can provide the same potential for individual economic freedom as a fully functioning private business can.
Georg Fischer Central Plastics stayed open and kept our employees safe during the pandemic. As businesses began to open back up, demand for our products skyrocketed, but our ability to add to our workforce was disappointing at best, with many stating they could make more on unemployment. These are not minimum wage jobs and offer career growth, excellent benefits and a safe and stable workplace. Today’s action by Gov. Kevin Stitt is a step in removing one of the barriers for Oklahoma to thrive.
Over the last three months, Michelin North America has had difficulty in meeting customer demand due to labor shortages with both subcontractors and our core hiring populations in many of our manufacturing locations. We employ approximately 1,500 individuals in our Ardmore facility and are hopeful this change will help us fill our open subcontractor positions as soon as possible.
We at the Tulsa Regional Chamber applaud Gov. Stitt's innovative approach to getting Oklahomans back to work. Economic confidence in Oklahoma remains high, but further progress has been hindered by workforce challenges. With so many employers struggling to fill open positions across a range of industries, the governor's action is a welcome step forward on the road to economic recovery.
Some states, like Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina, made the decision to end unemployment benefits in June as well.
For more information about the incentive program, click here.
Watch the full news conference below.
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