Gov. Reeves announces Miss. will opt out of pandemic unemployment benefits

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 3:29 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLOX) - The same day one of Mississippi’s top elected officials recommended the action. Gov. Tate Reeves announced Mississippi would opt out of additional federal unemployment benefits.

The purpose of unemployment benefits is to temporarily assist Mississippians who are unemployed through no fault of...

Posted by Tate Reeves on Monday, May 10, 2021

Reeves has also asked the Department of Employment Security to prioritize pre-pandemic enforcement of eligibility requirements under state law.

Mississippi’s Speaker of the House published a letter asking the governor to take steps to get people off unemployment and back to work.

State Rep. Philip Gunn suggested in his letter to Gov. Tate Reeves that Mississippi could opt of participating in the federal COVID-19 related unemployment benefits, following the example of Montana, South Carolina, and most recently Alabama.

Gunn cited anecdotal testimony from small business owners to him and other House members that employees will not return to work when “they can earn more from combined federal and state unemployment benefits than their normal wages.”

The letter also noted a possible disconnect to what those receiving benefits are reporting to MDES and the actions they are actually taking, such as not appearing for job interviews.

“These businesses are no longer suffering from a lack of demand due to COVID-19. Rather, they are suffering from a labor shortage caused by unemployment benefits that exceed normal wage levels for productive work,” Gunn wrote. “As we are recovering from COVID-19, we must do everything we reasonably can to return our businesses to a normal footing.”

To read the full letter, CLICK HERE.

Evidence of the hiring woes can be seen in the “Help Wanted” signs found at most restaurants. As the economy begins to rebound from the pandemic, finding workers has been a struggle for everybody from fast-food restaurants to casinos.

“The new challenge for the operators down here, which is actually not that new, is staffing,” said Golden Nugget Biloxi Assistant General Manager Scott King. “Labor is a little bit tough to come by no matter whether it’s a hotel, casino, food and beverage, retail or even a player services job. Across the gamut, we have job openings right now, and I don’t think that is unique to Golden Nugget, so there’s lots of opportunities if someone’s looking.”

Golden Nugget is having a job fair on May 18.

Many restaurants that have managed to stay open through the pandemic have had to limit their hours because they are short-staffed.

“We have changed our business hours, actually, to accommodate lack of employees, we’re overworked,” said Chad Leslie, owner of CW’s Family Restaurant in Gulfport.

Leslie said he would like to double his current staff.

“If you’re looking, CW’s Family Restaurant. We could use your help,” he said with a smile.

The Descher Organization is looking for more than 100 employees for its 18 McDonalds restaurants.

“We’re doing all that we can to keep as many employees as we can and stay open, but we’re not quite there yet, so we are having to modify how we do business,” said co-owner Jeff Descher.

Many business owners welcomed Monday’s announcement by the governor, who said the supplemental payments may have been needed last May, but not this May.

“Yes, we’d like for people to get back to work, for sure, and we think that that could be a great tool in making that happen,” said Gregg Descher. “We are definitely feeling the effects of them receiving money and not wanting to work”

“I’m really excited about that. To get the doors back open full-time would be nice,” Leslie said.

Reeves has asked for Mississippi to opt out of additional benefits as soon as federal law allows, which is June 12, 2021.

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