Lankford Slams DC Democrat Policies Keeping Oklahomans from Going Back to Work
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on YouTube.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today shared his frustrations on the Senate floor after Democrats voted to extend unemployment benefits through September 2021, which has caused Oklahoma workers not to fill numerous job openings because employers can’t compete with federal benefits that should have been phased out when the economy reopened.
In his remarks Lankford applauded Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s (R-OK) announcement this week that he would incentivize the first 20,000 workers to return to work with a $1,200 payment and that all federal unemployment benefits would end in six weeks on June 26, 2021.
Following Biden’s address to Congress, Lankford raised concerns with the spending and policy proposals, including unemployment insurance that are having impacts on our economy. In March, Lankford opposed the Reconciliation Bill, which Democrats called “COVID relief,” for numerous reasons, one of which was its renewed incentives for Oklahomans to not return to work.
In February of this year there was a bipartisan conversation about what’s the next step dealing with COVID. We knew we were coming out of it, and vaccines were going in arms. States were opening up,, like my state in Oklahoma was rapidly opening in February, and there was this dialogue about what would happen in the economy.
In the middle of that dialogue my Democratic colleagues determined we’re going to go this on our own. We still stayed engaged. One of the big issues though was unemployment. Would there be additional unemployment benefits that would be done? Now myself and multiple others raised the issue on both sides of the aisle, how would this be handled?
If it was a year before, literally in March of 2020, there was an extension of unemployment because unemployment was at 15 percent at that point, and there were no jobs to be had. But in March of this year, when the agreement was finally made and a straight partisan bill was passed, we weren’t at 15 percent unemployment. It was at six percent and driving down to the floor. Now we’re below four percent.
The challenge that we have is there’s additional unemployment benefits that have extended all the way until September. That bill passed, a straight partisan bill in March. By the Sunday after Palm Sunday when I was back in my state, I was already having business owners catching me and saying, ‘What in the world? I can’t hire now because I’m competing for wages with someone in the federal government.’ What has that meant for right now, now in May, what does that mean for us in Oklahoma?
In Oklahoma there are 37 percent more jobs available now than there were a year and a half ago before the pandemic began, when we were at the best economy in 50 years. Literally, there are more job openings in Oklahoma now than there have ever been in the history of our records. Let me run that past everybody again. There are more openings in Oklahoma right now for jobs than ever in the history of our recordkeeping for our state, but we can’t fill jobs because people are making so much money on unemployment, and they get the first $10,000 of that written off on their taxes. Those two pieces together incentivize people literally to be able to stay home.
Our state has had to take a pretty radical step, quite frankly. We have stepped in with 20 other states and have ended the unemployment assistance, but we have had to take it the next step because we have so many job openings in our state. We’re literally giving a $1,200 bonus to anyone who will go back to work. For the first 20,000 people, that will actually get off of unemployment benefits and go back to work, we are paying a $1,200 bonus to those individuals to return to work. What in the world? Why would we have to do this as a state?
Our state’s taking leadership—and I’m grateful to the Governor be able to help navigate the economy and our families—but why would we want to have a situation where we literally disincentivized work and encouraged people to not return to work? What Governor Stitt has set up is an encouragement to actually get back to work. That’s better for families, that’s better for children, that’s better for our economy.
Right now in Oklahoma, if you’re going to build anything—and I mean build anything—good luck finding building supplies, and it’s not because we don’t have lumber, or it’s not because we don’t have bricks. It’s not because we don’t have windows and shingles and all those things. Good luck getting it because they can’t get enough labor to actually do the manufacturing, and so everyone’s running behind, simply because there’s a shortage of labor because we’re incentivizing people to stay home rather than to be able to come back.
Shots are in arms. Our rates of COVID have decreased dramatically. It is time for us to return to work. Now we’re going to have a situation where right now half the country is incentivized to stay home, and now you have got 21 states, slightly less than half the country that’s trying to incentivize people to get back to work.
We need, as a nation, to incentivize work and to encourage families to be able to be engaged in productive activities. It’s right for families. It’s right for our economy. It’s certainly right for us as a nation. And I thank Governor Stitt for his leadership in this area and for what we continue to do, but we have got to get back to basic policies that don’t disincentivize work.