OKLAHOMA CITY – On Monday, Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt announced a new Return to Work Incentive for Oklahomans who are on unemployment. The first 20,000 Oklahomans currently receiving unemployment benefits who return to the workforce will receive a $1,200 incentive using funds from the American Rescue Plan. All federal benefits will end June 26, 2021, giving Oklahomans six weeks’ notice of termination.
The Return to Work Incentive will be enacted via Executive Order 2021-15.
“This is the right move for Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “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. For Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state, workforce participation must be at a top level and I am committed to doing what I can to help Oklahomans get off the sidelines and into the workforce.”
“As we emerge from the pandemic, it is important we continue to focus on rebuilding our economy, which means we need more Oklahomans to participate in our state’s workforce,” said Shelley Zumwalt, OESC Executive Director. “With today’s announcement, which includes a strong return-to-work incentive program, OESC is placing top priority on helping claimants find stable employment or retraining opportunities. We have 28 offices across the state ready to help all of the state’s citizens who are eligible to work but currently are not working and the hundreds of employers who are struggling to find employees.”
Oklahoma employers applauded the decision.
“Every employer I speak with, inside or outside of the state, is struggling to recruit workers,” said Chad Warmington, president and CEO of The State Chamber. “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. Employers are offering competitive wages with generous benefits packages and workers are still refusing to return to work. It was time to stop disincentivizing hope and opportunity for Oklahomans. Gov. Stitt recognizes there is no government program that can provide the same potential for individual economic freedom as a fully functioning private business can.”
“Georg Fischer Central Plastics stayed open and kept our employees safe during the pandemic,” said Dani Shields, Director of Human Resources for Georg Fischer Central Plastics, LLC. “As businesses began to open back up, demand for our products skyrocketed, but our ability to add to our workforce was disappointing at best, with many stating they could make more on unemployment. These are not minimum wage jobs and offer career growth, excellent benefits and a safe and stable workplace. Today’s action by Gov. Kevin Stitt is a step in removing one of the barriers for Oklahoma to thrive.”
“Over the last three months, Michelin North America has had difficulty in meeting customer demand due to labor shortages with both subcontractors and our core hiring populations in many of our manufacturing locations,” said Will Whitley, Director of State, Local Government Affairs and Community Relations for Michelin North America. “We employ approximately 1,500 individuals in our Ardmore facility and are hopeful this change will help us fill our open subcontractor positions as soon as possible.”
Governor Stitt’s executive order will direct OESC to end all federal benefits including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) on June 26th.
Starting June 27, 2021 any claims filed after June 26, 2021 must be for benefits weeks prior to June 27, 2021. Any claims that are currently in the adjudication, appeals or in the Board of Review process that are filed for weeks prior to June 27, 2021 will still receive benefits for those weeks if their claim is approved. Claimants who are currently receiving Traditional Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits will continue to receive weekly benefits paid out of the UI Trust Fund, but like other programs will not receive FPUC or the additional $300 weekly federal benefit.
The $1,200 Return to Work Incentive is for claimants currently receiving PUA, PEUC or UI between May 2-15, 2021, and who have completed 6 consecutive weeks of employment of 32 hours a week or more with the same employer. The timeframe for eligibility for the incentive starts today, May 17, 2021 and will be ongoing through September 4, 2021. Claimants can begin uploading their information along with the six weeks of pay stubs starting June 28, 2021. Payments will begin dispersing the second week in July. The incentive is limited to the first 20,000 approved applicants.
Specific details on the incentive program and the federal benefits announcement are available at https://oklahoma.gov/oesc.html.