BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards has agreed to turn off federal pandemic unemployment payments at the end of July in exchange for a long-term, modest boost to Louisiana’s jobless benefits, announcing Wednesday that he’s signed a bill that makes the trade.
Republican state lawmakers and business organizations agreed to support a $28 increase in Louisiana’s maximum weekly unemployment benefits — increasing the payment to a maximum of $275 a week — starting in January.
But they added a provision into the legislation that only allowed the benefit hike to take effect if the Democratic governor ended the $300 supplemental federal pandemic unemployment benefit by July 31, weeks earlier than required.
Edwards took the deal. He issued the notification in a long list of bill signings released by his office Wednesday, with no comment on his decision. With his signature on the legislation, Edwards becomes one of the first Democratic governors to announce he’ll end the pandemic relief aid weeks ahead of its expiration.
After the legislative session wrapped up Thursday, the governor said he already had been weighing shutting down the extra federal benefits in August, ahead of the Sept. 6 federal expiration date.
“The 31st of July doesn’t seem like a bad compromise,” he said last week.
Edwards said he was trying to find a “reasonable balance” between helping the jobless and assisting businesses that say they’re having trouble finding people to fill their employee ranks.
More than half of states, nearly all led by Republicans, already have announced they were turning off the federal benefits early.
Louisiana’s Democratic lawmakers were split on the tradeoff, which was inserted into a bill sponsored by Rep. Chad Brown, a Plaquemine Democrat, in the final hours of the legislative session.
“I just can’t believe you’re doing this, turning down federal unemployment for people who have had the hardest year of their life,” Rep. Mandie Landry, a Democrat from New Orleans, said during the House debate on the measure.
Brown said he had “heartburn” about the tradeoff, but he said that “a permanent increase going forward is desperately needed.”
During his end-of-session news conference, Edwards said he expected more people would be able to go back to work in August when schools open, without worrying about the expense of childcare. He suggested the long-term increase to unemployment benefits was an important goal because Louisiana has had one of the lowest weekly jobless payments in the country.
“Everything’s a tradeoff. Reasonable people can disagree about exactly where you draw the line,” he said.