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North Dakota to nix federal pandemic unemployment benefits, citing workforce shortage

The move means residents who have claimed unemployment for longer than 20 weeks will be kicked off benefits, and those who continue to successfully claim unemployment will no longer receive a weekly add-on benefit of $300 to $400.

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The Fargo office of Job Service North Dakota at 1350 32nd St. S. Forum file photo
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BISMARCK — North Dakota will stop offering federal pandemic unemployment benefits to residents on June 19, citing a statewide workforce shortage.

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum announced Monday, May 10, the state will pull out of four federally provided programs that offer extra compensation and longer eligibility to unemployed North Dakotans.

The move means residents who have claimed unemployment for longer than 20 weeks will be kicked off benefits, and those who continue to successfully claim unemployment will no longer receive a weekly add-on benefit of $300 to $400. Also ending is a special program that provides unemployment benefits to gig workers, self-employed people and part-time workers who would not normally qualify.

About 8,300 people are currently claiming benefits under the programs, which have paid out more than $700 million in benefits since March of last year, the governor's office said in a news release, noting that nearly 30% of those claiming the benefits live out of state.

Burgum has often said during the coronavirus pandemic that generous federal benefits provide a perverse incentive for North Dakotans to stay unemployed because the government is paying them more than they would earn at work.

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North Dakota had more than 16,000 online job openings in April, up almost 50% over last year and the most since July 2015, according to the governor's office.

“After fighting through severe stress and financial hardship, many North Dakota businesses that survived the pandemic are now facing an unprecedented labor shortage as they attempt to recover,” Burgum said. “These federal unemployment programs were meant to supplement state benefits and provide short-term relief for displaced and vulnerable workers, and these programs have accomplished their goals but are now counterproductive. Safe, effective vaccines have been available to every adult in North Dakota for months now, and we have an abundance of job openings with employers who are eager to hire.”

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, right, speaks at a bill signing on Monday, April 26, 2021, in the state Capitol. Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, left, looks on. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

North Dakota is following in the footsteps of several other Republican-run states, including Montana, Arkansas and Alabama, by pulling out of the programs.

The decision to terminate the programs has the support of the Greater North Dakota Chamber, the National Federation of Independent Business and the North Dakota Hospitality Association.

"Anytime the federal government competes with private employers to keep people at home is problematic," said chamber CEO and president Arik Spencer. "Let’s get the workforce back in a position to help our state and economy recover.”

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Democratic President Joe Biden's administration hasn't found much evidence that extra unemployment benefits are leading to workforce shortages, noting that lack of widespread vaccination and the need for parents to provide child care are more to blame for the issue.

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Job Service North Dakota plans to launch a publicity campaign called “JobUP ND” next month to highlight the workforce needs of the state, the governor's office said.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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