JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Governor Tate Reeves (R-Miss.) said Mississippi will opt out of the additional federal unemployment benefits by June 12, 2021.

In a tweet on Monday, the governor said the purpose of the unemployment benefits, which is $300 a week, is to temporarily assist Mississippians who are unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A year after the pandemic was declared, the governor said the state is open for business.

“The fact is, we find ourselves now in a position where there’s literally help wanted signs all over the state,” said Reeves.

On Monday, House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Miss.) sent a letter to the governor, calling on him to enforce the work search requirement or end the federal stipend.

“What you hear repeatedly is that it’s very difficult to find labor, to find people in work in some of these jobs,” said Reeves. “So, we think the pandemic, for all intensive purposes, is behind us.”

State Representative Chris Bell (D-District 65) opposed the decision to end the additional federal unemployment benefits.

“I don’t think there’s a single Mississippian that would prefer to sit on the couch and not go to work and provide a protective life for their families. At the end of the day, that $500 is not enough,” said Bell.

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Tyree Irving released the following statement about the governor’s decision.

Governor Tate Reeves has decided to take away unemployment benefits to struggling Mississippians for the purpose, allegedly, of forcing them to take a job in lieu of the benefits. I have three questions for our Governor: First, has he done any study to ascertain the number, kind, and quality of jobs available and matched them to the skill set of the unemployed persons who, apparently, he believes would rather take a handout than work? Second, if he has not done such a study, has it occurred to him that he is perpetuating the age-old myth that the poor is poor because they do not want to work? Third, when will he declare his opposition to handouts to others in the form of subsidies and tax breaks to multimillion/multinational corporations?

Mississippi boasts one of the highest poverty rates in the United States. The decision to forgo federal dollars that would assist struggling Mississippians, at no additional cost to the State, is cold and heartless. Raising the minimum wage to a living wage or to $15.00 per hour may also be an incentive to boost the number of people seeking employment. It is my hope that Governor Reeves, along with his Republican colleagues, will focus on improving the low wages that continue to plague our State and that have caused us to lose population and growth to other Southern states.

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Tyree Irving

The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus also released a statement about the governor’s decision.

The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus disagrees with Governor Tate Reeves’ decision to stop accepting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance on June 12, which will likely place many struggling families further into financial despair and cause many who cannot find employment to survive on a meager $235 per week in state assistance.

As policy makers our decisions should be evidence based, as opposed to peer driven. During the early stages of the pandemic, many businesses in Mississippi were deemed essential meaning those businesses never closed.  

There are many Mississippians of all ages, races and genders who for one reason or another have not been able to gain employment or be re-employed in their professions during the pandemic and they rely on the federal money to get by – not to prosper – but to survive.

Stopping this essential benefit without evidence to support the move is insensitive, uncaring and borders on a lack of empathy for those who at this moment probably cannot do any better job wise or financially.

We ask Governor Reeves to please reverse his decision until he can prove his theory that people are avoiding employment because of accepting the federal benefits.

Senator Angela Turner Ford, Chairman, Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus

Mississippi joins Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, Montana and Iowa in ending the additional federal unemployment benefits.