Scott pledges to refuse federal unemployment check extension

But federal $300/week benefit will continue thru summer

by Guy Page

The Vermont unemployment rate is down to 2.6% and isn’t expected to climb much until more workers re-enter the workforce, Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said this month. However, the federal government continues will continue to pay $300 in pandemic unemployment until September 4.

Asked at today’s press conference if he would consider declining the federal unemployment payments before Sept. 4, Gov. Phil Scott said, “we have to give 30 days notice. I think we should see this through. If Congress decides to extend, I would probably not accept. It’s gone on long enough. We would let it lapse.”

As for this summer, Scott said the State will try other strategies to keep workers and boost employment.

Every single sector in Vermont is challenged by workforce needs,” Scott said. “This is no surprise. Before the pandemic we had the lowest unemployment rate. We had more jobs than people. That hasn’t changed. We’re losing six workers, every day..” In response, Vermont will accept refugee workers and market the beauty of Vermont and the health of its people. He urged the Legislature to not raise taxes and in particular to pass the state income tax exemption on military pensions.

Vermont is one of only six states to continue taxing military retirees. “If we didn’t do that, they might consider staying,” Scott said.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington

According to information released by the Vermont Dept. of Labor June 23, the seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate for May 2021 fell another tenth to 2.6 percent. Vermont now has the second-lowest rate in the nation, tied with Nebraska, and one-tenth below New Hampshire. The comparable United States rate in May was 5.8 percent, which was a decrease of three-tenths of one percentage point from the revised April estimate.

While the labor force is nearly 20,000 lower than one year ago, after the pandemic had begun, the new numbers reflect some gains there and more significantly in the number of employed.

The Vermont Department of Labor released the report June 23; it is based on household data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Employment increased by 1,296 last month and is up 3,212 from the same time last year. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed decreased by 918 and is 23,006 fewer than a year ago.

The unemployment rate one year ago was 9.3 percent.

Vermont Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said, “As job seekers return to the labor force, it can be expected that the unemployment rate will rise. This is because the labor force and unemployment rate both calculate individuals who are actively seeking employment. However, with this release of the May 2021 data, we see Vermont’s unemployment rate decrease to 2.6 percent, putting us back to pre-pandemic levels…”

The Vermont labor force may expand when federal unemployment benefits expire September 4. As noted on the Vermont Employment and Training website:

“The federal CARES Act created various programs to expand eligibility to increase accessibility to unemployment insurance benefits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Programs created under the CARES Act include Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA, PEUC and FPUC are all scheduled to end the benefit week ending September 4, 2021, which is the final full week of the program. After September 4, 2021, if you are filing in the PUA or PEUC program, you will no longer be eligible to receive those benefits.”

In addition to the federal unemployment benefit, the State of Vermont pays up to $533/week if recipients can demonstrate they have tried and failed to find suitable work. Vermonters who are no longer receiving state unemployment benefits must earn four times their benefit, or work in two consecutive quarters, before being eligible to receive benefits again.

Cover photo credit Atharva Tulsi, Unsplash


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