Forest group urges state phase out of unemployment; Louisiana latest to do so

Courtesy: MGN Online

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) –  – More than 40 member companies from the Kentucky Forest Products Association have drafted a letter to Gov. Andy Beshear requesting the administration halt Kentucky’s participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC).

It’s part of a growing call across the state and nation to end the extended payments. That comes as Louisiana becomes the latest state to say it plans to end benefits early. More than half are doing so and some already have. The $300 per week federal incentive ends Sept. 6.

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Citing critical workforce needs, the companies indicate their concerns (061621 ltr to GOV Beshear regarding workforce) about rising demand from their customers and not enough help to staff their businesses.

“I continue to hear concerns across the state from our members about their struggles to employ qualified applicants,” said Bob Bauer, Executive Director of KFIA.  “With a direct economic impact of $9.55 billion and employment approaching 60,000 Kentuckians, the forest products industry is a quiet, but robust group of companies that operate in virtually every county.  So many of these businesses are family-owned working in rural and distressed counties.  As their trade association and advocate in Frankfort, we hope the Governor will give this matter his full attention. We and others stand ready to work with his administration on a solution.”

“The FPUC was created in March 2020 when we all were concerned about an economy in free fall,” said Michael Thornberry, author of the letter and vice president of Powell Valley Millwork. “Like so many government assistance programs, cash payments are a one-size-fits-all approach that is now hindering what could be a remarkable economic recovery in the state.  Our business remains strong with demand downstream for American-made hardwood products, but we do not have the workforce to produce.  We should not have to compete with unemployment benefits to hire and retain employees.  I hope Governor Beshear will consider what nearly half the other states have done by incentivizing folks to return to the workforce rather than paying able-bodied individuals to remain at home.”

The Kentucky Forest Industries Association represents the wood products industry, landowners and forestry interests in Kentucky.

The Association promotes the economic welfare and interests of the wood products industry through a number of programs and work with regulatory agencies advocating for forestry in the legislative process at the state and national level.

Meanwhile, in Louisiana, 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 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.

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.

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.