Photo by Gerson Repreza via Unsplash

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the start of a new “Back-to-Work Initiative” program on May 17 to encourage Oklahomans to return to work.

“Today, @OESCnews Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt and I announced a new Return to Work Incentive. The first 20,000 Oklahomans on unemployment who return to work will receive a $1,200 incentive,” Gov. Stitt tweeted.

The initiative offers the first 20,000 previously unemployed residents  who secure a new job and meet certain requirements a $1,200 one-time incentive payout from the American Rescue Plan, as well as 60 days of free childcare through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. 

“Since our state has been open for business since last June, the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma businesses today is not reopening, it’s finding employees,” Gov. Stitt said during a press conference

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Eligibility to receive the incentive is contingent upon new employees exiting any unemployment insurance programs they were previously enrolled in and providing proof of employment under a certified employer over a period of six consecutive weeks, for a minimum of 32 hours per week. The incentive is not subject to deductions. 

Business owners have been experiencing an extended labor shortage as they begin to re-open their doors to pre-pandemic levels of clients and customers. 

Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Public Relations Manager, Harve Allen, told Scriberr News that “business has begun picking up quite dramatically over the last couple of months, especially as local, state and CDC restrictions have either eased or have been totally lifted.”

He cited the service, hospitality and restaurant industries as having been hit hardest by the shortage of workers. 

“In many of these instances, workers have not returned to their places of employment because they may have been hired by another company or business, are still collecting state and/or federal unemployment benefits but still looking for other work or are remaining at home to care for young children until they do return or find other employment,” he said.

As part of Gov. Stitt’s commitment to increasing workforce participation, the following federal assistance programs have been discontinued: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation. 

Unemployed Oklahomans receiving federal assistance via any of these programs will no longer be eligible for pandemic-offered benefits come June 27. 

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Gov. Stitt hopes the removal of federal benefits implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic will incentivize state citizens to “get off the sidelines and into the workforce.”

The press release said Oklahoma employers “applauded the decision.” 

“Every employer I speak with, inside or outside of the state, is struggling to recruit workers,” Chad Warmington, president and CEO of The State Chamber said during the press conference. 

“While federal programs provided needed benefits at the height of the pandemic when businesses were forced to shutter, these benefits have now incentivized workers to remain on unemployment after we have safely reopened our economy.”

Some took to Twitter to criticize the governor’s move. Twitter users like Michele Bowen said “employers are taking advantage of the unemployment situation.”

The launch of the workforce initiative plan has brought mixed reactions from citizens:

Persons hoping to claim the incentive can apply on the OESC website starting June 28.

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