Lankford Offers Examples of How Democrat Policies are Keeping Oklahoma Businesses from Reopening
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on YouTube.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about his travel around Oklahoma over the Easter state work period and the concerns he heard from Oklahoma businesses about how Democrat policies continue to get in the way of their recovery because of the ongoing Unemployment Insurance (UI) extensions and other federal benefits related to the pandemic that are discouraging people from returning to work.
I bring news back from Oklahoma to this body and a request for dialogue. The COVID bill that was passed a little over a month ago, that bill provided all kinds of relief. As this body knows, we were deeply divided on that bill and some of the issues within it. One of the issues stretched out the debate all the way to the last moment, and it was the additional unemployment assistance.
The conversation about the additional unemployment assistance is, the economy is reopening. Is this the time to extend additional money above and beyond state unemployment assistance? What we normally do. With unemployment rates going down, should we add more money on top of it? No one really knew what would happen when that occurred, but we had some suspicions. The two weeks I spent traveling around the state, the week before Easter and after Easter, town after town after town after town after town after town, I heard the same thing from employees and employers. Employees would tell me somebody that used to work next to them is now at home because they are making as much money at home on unemployment assistance as they would be working.
So the person standing there working at the factory, the person standing there working at the restaurant, is ticked off at the person who is at home watching TV making as much money as them. The employer is just as frustrated or more because they’ve got all kinds of orders coming into their business saying, ‘Can you send us more of this?’ And they could, except they don’t have enough labor.
An additional $300 a week was added on top of the unemployment assistance and extended out all the way to the first week of September. At the same time, checks were sent out to every individual, and then they were told they would get a $10,000 tax break. The combination of those three things together has caused some folks to do what people do in a free market—they look to see where they’re going to work based on where they can make the most money at that moment. That’s what a free market is like. That’s why employers continue to pay a little more to get good employees. But the problem is, in Oklahoma, where there’s a low cost of living, many of our employers are struggling to find work because they are competing against this body. And the employees are ticked because they are at work, working, paying taxes, and the person who used to work next to them and probably will return this October, got several months off and is making the same, except for the person working is paying for the person not working, and they are a little ticked off about it.
I bring this to you because this is not hypothetical. In Oklahoma, our unemployment rate dropped again to 4.2 percent, but we still have 100,000 people. Our rates continued to rise for people filing first-time claims, but I promise there’s not a town you can go to in Oklahoma that doesn’t have help wanted signs all over town. I heard it from every single town that I went to from employers in every single place, that they cannot compete with what the government is just mailing to people for staying at home.
The very first day I was out a couple of weeks ago, I was in Tulsa in a business there that does manufacturing. He told me for the first time ever—and he’s owned the business for a long time—for the first time ever, one of his managers came to him and said, ‘You’re not going to believe what just happened.’ They had an employee that came up to them and said, ‘I would like you to fire me.’ He said, ‘Why in the world would I do that?’ He said ‘I just figured out with the tax break and what I get on unemployment assistance, I could make as much staying at home as I could working. But I need you to fire me so I can go file for unemployment.’ And he literally said to them, ‘I’m not going to do that. Go back to work.’ So, the next day, the guy showed up 30 minutes late to work and at lunchtime, he took an hour and a half off. He did the same thing the next day. The third day, according to protocol in their company, they called him, talked to him, wrote it all up. The fourth day they did the same thing again, called him in, wrote it up, and by the fifth day, they fired him and his exact words were to his manager on the floor, ‘What took you so long?’
There’s a restaurant in Oklahoma City that told us they were preparing to reopen. Finally the pandemic is over. We have a very high percentage of folks in Oklahoma that have received the vaccine, we’re one of the top ten states in the country for distributing the vaccines out. Our state, our counties, our local offices, our tribal areas have done a fantastic job getting the vaccine out. We’re open, and one of the restaurants trying to reopen and applies to the district of Oklahoma City, that beautiful cultural district, couldn’t reopen because they couldn’t hire people because they got larger unemployment benefits. And they remain closed.
The mayor of Muskogee told me most employers in their town are struggling to be able to get employees to be able to come back to work. In northern Oklahoma, in Perry, there is a restaurant that was talking to one of my staff this week that said they are having to close early because they can’t get enough business. And I would tell you, a couple of Sundays ago, my wife and I drove to go eat lunch after church, and we went to two restaurants before we had to go to a third to find a restaurant that was open. The second restaurant literally had a sign on their door, ‘closed due to labor shortage.’ This is a real issue that was created in this room that is impacting my state trying to reopen.
I have no idea if my Democratic colleagues will acknowledge this as a real problem or just say, ‘That’s a hypothetical issue, it’s not real.’ But this is going to continue all the way through September, and my state’s not going to be able to reopen. This will get even worse in the days ahead, when additional money will start being shipped out to families and the change in the child tax credit when people will literally start getting checks in August on top of the other checks they’re receiving.
I bring this to this body because I’d like for us to have a conversation about it and for somebody in this body to acknowledge a mistake was made and we need to fix this. We all agreed last year to be able to help during the time of the pandemic. People needed help. Everyone was out of work, and there were no options for work. That is not true anymore, yet these larger benefits are still coming out. This needs to be addressed. For the sake of getting our economy going again, this needs to be addressed. And I would hope we could have a reasonable, rational, fact-based conversation about it.