Arkansas governor says he regrets banning mask mandates as COVID-19 cases surge in his state: ‘Everything has changed now’

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson stands next to a chart displaying COVID-19 hospitalization data as he speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, July 29, 2021.

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to reverse a ban on mask mandates that he approved just four months ago.
  • He said he regrets signing the law and has called for a special session to amend it.
  • “Everything has changed now,” the Arkansas governor said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to reverse a ban on mask mandates that he enacted just a few months ago.

The Republican governor signed a bill in April to prohibit state and local officials from enforcing mask requirements. At the time, coronavirus cases were declining, so additional mandates were no longer needed, Hutchinson reasoned.

Now, he says he regrets the decision, as the highly contagious Delta variant has overwhelmed the state with an explosion of new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

“I signed it at the time because our cases were at a very low point. I knew it would be overridden by the legislature if I didn’t sign it,” Hutchinson said during a press conference on Tuesday. “And I had already eliminated our statewide mask mandate. And so I signed it for those reasons that our cases were at a low point. Everything has changed now.”

“Yes, in hindsight, I wish that it had not become law,” he added. “But it is the law, and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation.”

Hutchinson has now called for a special legislative session to amend the law. He said he’s especially concerned for children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine but plan to return to in-person schooling in the fall and may be susceptible to the virus.

“Last week, Children’s daily census of 24 COVID-19 patients was a 50 percent increase over previous peaks. Because of this increased risk of illness in children, we see the necessity of allowing leaders in school districts the flexibility to decide whether students wear masks. We must allow local school boards to make the best decision for the students in their schools,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

But other state lawmakers may be unwilling to embrace his position.

“I understand that some legislators are reluctant to allow school boards this freedom, even in this limited way,” Hutchinson said. “But the exceptions for which I am asking are true to the conservative principle that puts control in the hands of local government.”

Arkansas has seen a steady uptick in coronavirus cases since July. The current daily average of new infections is 1,943, up 66% over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times. That’s much higher than the daily average of 187 new cases on April 29, when Hutchinson signed the ban on mask mandates into law.

The governor has also faced challenges in getting his state vaccinated against coronavirus. As of Wednesday, 46% of adults have been fully vaccinated.

“It’s a conservative state. Sometimes conservatives are hesitant about the government. And we just got to counteract that by getting better information to them, building confidence,” Hutchinson said last month.

Hutchinson did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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Unemployed people in Arkansas have won back their benefits, marking the third state to reverse aid cuts

unemployment insurance weekly benefits stimulus checks recession job losses coronavirus pandemic
Carlos Ponce joins a protest in in Miami Springs, Florida, asking senators to continue unemployment benefits past July 31, 2020.

  • Unemployed workers in Arkansas are the latest to win back their federal benefits.
  • They follow similar temporary legal victories in Maryland and Indiana, with thousands getting benefits restored.
  • However, the lawsuits have won back benefits the Biden administration didn’t intervene to restore.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Unemployed workers in Arkansas are the latest group to win back their federal unemployment benefits after Gov. Asa Hutchinson moved to terminate them ahead of the September expiration.

In a Thursday ruling, Judge Herbert Wright said that, as a lawsuit against the state continues, the state must restart benefits for Arkansas residents. Wright wrote that plaintiffs “are likely to suffer harm” if the state doesn’t restore financial aid and that the “Court has serious doubts that the Governor and the Director of Workforce Services were acting within the scope of their duties.”

One of the five plaintiffs in the suit said they’ve been unable to get their prescribed medications, since they can’t afford them after the expiration of benefits. Another said they’ve been unable to pay medical bills for their daughter, who broke her arm, and cannot afford food.

The new ruling could impact just under 70,000 Arkansas residents, according to an estimate from Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and jobless policy expert at the left-leaning Century Foundation. A little under 52,000 of those recipients were eligible to receive benefits under federal programs that expanded both eligibility and the number of weeks that jobless workers can collect checks. That means that those workers lost all benefits – not just the additional $300 week from the federal government – when Arkansas halted its participation in federal unemployment in June.

The temporary victory in Arkansas comes after workers in Indiana and Maryland successfully clawed back their benefits through similar preliminary injunctions. Suits against governors for ending benefits have popped up across the country, with 10 Florida residents filing a suit against Governor Ron DeSantis over ending the additional $300 weekly.

However, a similar suit in Ohio was just rejected, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The suits come after Biden’s Department of Labor essentially found that there’s no much it could do to step in and provide benefits for workers in states cutting them off. Instead, workers have been taking matters into their hands with lawsuits.

While many governors moved to end enhanced benefits in a proclaimed effort to get workers back into the workforce, preliminary evidence has shown that might not be the case. A study from Arindrajit Dube, an economics professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that workers didn’t flock back to work after having benefits cut. And health concerns might still be keeping many at home: An analysis by economist Luke Pardue at payroll platform Gusto found that, of the states that cut benefits early, workers returned in states with higher vaccination rates – but didn’t come as back as quickly in less-vaccinated states.

Are you unemployed and have a story to share? You can contact this reporter at jkaplan@insider.com.

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Arkansas GOP governor who is holding town halls to urge vaccinations said people he meets have called the shot a ‘bioweapon’ and talked about ‘mind control’

Close up of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on June 22, 2021. Facing growing resistance to vaccinations, the governors of Arkansas and Ohio are among several governors asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant full approval to coronavirus vaccines in the hope that it will persuade more people to get the shot.

  • Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is combatting misinformation and “myths” about the COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Hutchinson is traveling around the state to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
  • Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccinations rates and is also seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he is working against misinformation as he travels around the state urging residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hutchinson, a Republican, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday that resistance to the vaccine has “hardened in certain elements” due to “false information” and “myths.”

“As I go into these town hall meetings someone said, ‘Don’t call it a vaccine, call it a bioweapon.’ And they talk about mind control,” Hutchinson said. “Well those are obviously erroneous. Other members of the community correct that.”

Read more: Don’t punish the vaccinated – make it harder to choose to be unvaccinated

Misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines have spread online throughout the pandemic. A study by Center for Countering Digital Hate looked at 812,000 anti-vaccine Facebook posts and tweets made between February 1 and March 16. CCDH found 65% of the content came from a group of 12 users dubbed the “disinformation dozen.”

On Facebook, those 12 people were responsible for 73% of anti-vaccine content. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, a prominent anti-vaxxer even before the pandemic, was one of the 12. Another is a natural health doctor who has published more than 600 articles disparaging the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hutchinson is traveling around Arkansas, where vaccinations are lagging and COVID-19 is surging, to encourage residents to get vaccinated.

According to CDC data compiled by the Mayo Clinic, 35.9% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated, while 45.2% has received at least one dose. That leaves the state with one of the lowest vaccination rates per capita. Only Alabama and Mississippi have a smaller percentage of fully vaccinated residents.

Arkansas is also among the states seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases as the Delta variant rapidly spreads.

Hutchinson also said Sunday that the uptick in cases, especially as young people are being more affected, could encourage more people to get vaccinated.

“We are seeing younger adults going to the hospital. And people in Arkansas and across the nation respond to risk,” he said.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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A healthcare worker who was hospitalized for a month with COVID-19 says she now has nearly $1 million in medical bills

Shenita Russie being interviewed, left, and in hospital, right.
Shenita Russie was put in a medically-induced coma.

  • Shenita Russie caught COVID-19 while working in Boston as a mobile respiratory therapist, Newsweek reported.
  • She became so unwell that she was put in a medically-induced coma.
  • Russie has racked up an eye-watering amount in medical bills. “Close to a million dollars,” she told THV11.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A healthcare worker from Arkansas has said that she has racked up medical bills of close to $1 million after she was hospitalized from COVID-19, she told THV11.

Shenita Russie, 42, caught the virus while working as a mobile respiratory therapist for COVID-19 patients in Boston at the start of the pandemic, Newsweek reported.

She was hospitalized for a month and was placed in a medically-induced coma, according to the media outlet. During this time, she racked up an eye-watering amount in bills.

“The bills? They are incredible,” she told THV11. “I mean it was close to a million dollars just for how sick I was on life support.”

Read more: The anti-vax movement is killing people, and the right-wing media is egging it on

Now in Little Rock with her family and dealing with long COVID, Russie said that she is having to spend even more money on cardiologist consultations and rehabilitation.

She is unable to walk without a cane and hasn’t been able to work since getting sick, THV11 said.

Newsweek reported that her worker’s compensation is covering some of the cost, but she is still seeking to settle bills with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Baptist Health.

Baptist Health in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Russie is currently receiving treatment, said that the average charge per COVID patient is approximately $62,000.

Russie previously had a GoFundMe for her medical bills, but the fundraiser no longer appears to be online.

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The GOP governor of Arkansas, where vaccines are lagging and COVID-19 is surging, said it’s ‘disappointing’ vaccines are ‘political’

Asa Hutchinson
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a news conference at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015.

  • Arkansas is among the states seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, as many residents are unvaccinated.
  • Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said it’s “disappointing” that vaccines have become “political.”
  • He’s been traveling throughout the state to combat hesitancy and encourage people to get the shot.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday it’s “disappointing” vaccines have become “political,” as his state deals with a COVID-19 surge.

Hutchinson, a Republican, was speaking to Greta Van Susteren on her show “Full Court Press” when the host asked him about the state’s low vaccination rate.

“That’s a big challenge for us,” Hutchinson said, noting that there is lots of vaccine resistance. “It’s a conservative state. Sometimes conservatives are hesitant about the government. And we just got to counteract that by getting better information to them, building confidence.”

Read more: Don’t punish the vaccinated – make it harder to choose to be unvaccinated

In Arkansas, 44.8% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated, while 52.1% has received at least one dose. That leaves the state with one of the lowest vaccination rates per capita. Only Alabama and Mississippi have a smaller percentage of fully vaccinated residents, according to CDC data compiled by the Mayo Clinic.

Susteren asked Hutchinson about how vaccine hesitancy happens along political lines.

“It is disappointing that there’s a political part to this,” he said.

Vaccine hesitancy has been especially prominent among Republicans and in counties that voted for former President Donald Trump.

But Hutchinson said he both supported Trump and got the vaccine, and noted that Trump himself is also vaccinated. He also said that in Arkansas, where more than 65% of the vote went to Trump, tens of thousands of people had already gotten the vaccine.

Arkansas is among the states seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases as the Delta variant rapidly spreads. Hutchinson has been traveling around the state to address vaccine hesitancy and encourage people to get vaccinated, NPR reported.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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Vaccine regret went mainstream this week. Fear of getting sick could finally be encouraging some Americans to get their shots.

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Dr. Joseph Varon (right) speaks to a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on December 29, 2020.

  • Several hospitalized coronavirus patients expressed regret this week for not getting vaccinated.
  • Their stories may be resonating with other unvaccinated Americans.
  • Vaccination rates are increasing in states with recent COVID-19 surges like Arkansas and Louisiana.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US health authorities are calling it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In the last two weeks, average COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen more than 50%, with unvaccinated people now representing the vast majority – around 97% – of hospitalized cases, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For many of these patients, their illness was a wake-up call.

“I’m admitting young, healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections,” Dr. Brytney Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

Several other hospitalized patients publicly expressed regret this week for not getting vaccinated.

Amanda Spencer, a 37-year-old woman from Ohio, told her local news site WBNS-10TV that she was initially worried about side effects from the shot. She spent 11 days in a medically-induced coma after getting COVID-19 in June.

“After what I went through, I would’ve much rather been sick for a couple of days and have the mild symptoms that maybe the shot causes than to go through what I went through,” Spencer said on Thursday.

Abderrahmane Fadi, a 60-year-old science teacher in the UK, told the BBC that spending nine days in the hospital with COVID-19 was “the punishment I deserve” for not getting vaccinated.

“It’s like a hammer in my head all the time: ‘Why didn’t you have the vaccine? You had all the chances, the opportunities, the appointments, the letters – everything,'” Fadi said.

These stories may be resonating with unvaccinated Americans lately.

Over the last week, the five states with the highest COVID-19 case rates – Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada – had higher vaccination rates than the national average, the CDC said. In Louisiana, the number of first doses administered daily has risen 50% in the last two weeks, from roughly 3,600 to 5,400 per day. Arkansas’s daily first doses also rose 85% during that time, from around 2,800 to 5,300 per day.

“Whether it’s seeing loved ones sick or something else, it’s having an impact,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, wrote of COVID-19 surges in states with rising vaccination rates.

Rising cases and hospitalizations could change the minds of vaccine skeptics

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Maryland National Guard Specialist James Truong (right) administers a Moderna vaccine at CASA de Maryland’s Wheaton Welcome Center in Wheaton, Maryland on May 21, 2021.

It’s hard to know exactly why vaccinations have risen in some states and not others. At the national level, average daily vaccinations have actually declined 15% in the last week, even though no state has vaccinated more than 75% of its residents so far, and 16 states haven’t crossed the 50% threshold.

“We can’t really say with any certainty why we’re seeing an uptick in vaccinations,” Mindy Faciane, a public information officer for the Louisiana Department of Health, told Insider. But rising hospitalizations may be having some effect, she added.

“We think some Louisianans are also seeing the rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated, seeing the more contagious Delta variant in circulation and how it’s affecting their communities, and understanding that it is really urgent,” Faciane said. “They’re working through whatever questions they may have had about the vaccine and are now extra motivated to protect themselves and their loved ones in a way they hadn’t before.”

Indeed, data collected by The Economist and polling site YouGov indicates that the escalating severity of the pandemic can successfully change the minds of vaccine skeptics. In Taiwan, for instance, people reported that they were more likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine following a spike in cases in May, which forced the country back into a partial lockdown.

“Anecdotally, we are hearing from pharmacists and healthcare providers administering shots that more Arkansans are seeing the urgency in the need to get vaccinated as cases increase in the state,” Arkansas’s state health director, Dr. José Romero, told Insider.

Romero said earlier this month that his department’s vaccination strategy includes highlighting stories of unvaccinated people who became severely ill from COVID-19 – like a couple whose baby was delivered while the mother was still on a ventilator.

“Those people are becoming ambassadors and getting these public service messages out,” Romero said, adding, “This couple in particular exemplifies the view that many, many people have in the state – that is, ‘This is nothing, it’s an insignificant viral infection’ – and really shows the consequences of that type of belief.”

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Arkansas is the US’s new Delta epicenter. Its health director says ‘we’ve done everything we can’ to convince people to get vaccinated.

arkansas vaccine campaign
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson watches an ad featuring former NBA star Sidney Moncrief that encourages people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, at the state capitol in Little Rock, May 20, 2021.

  • Arkansas is seeing its highest spike in coronavirus cases in nearly five months.
  • The spread of the Delta variant has made it a new epicenter of the US outbreak.
  • But Arkansas health officials are still struggling to convince people to get vaccinated.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Few states have had a harder time vaccinating people than Arkansas.

Less than 43% of the state’s population has received at least one vaccine dose, and just 34% of residents are fully vaccinated – among the lowest vaccination rates in the US. That made the state a sitting duck for the Delta variant, which is significantly more transmissible than the original virus or other variants. As Delta spreads rapidly among unvaccinated people in the US, Arkansas and its neighbor, Missouri, have become the epicenter of the US outbreak.

The maps below, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show how Arkansas’ latest surge correlates with its low vaccination rate. Counties with at least 100 cases per 100,000 people (in blue) also have vaccination rates below 40% (in purple).

A map on the left shows counties where COVID-19 cases rates are above 100 cases per 100.000, a map on the right shows counties where vaccination rates are below 40%. Texas as greyed out on the map on the right as county-level vaccinatin data is not available.
Maps of the us show counties where case rate is over 100 per 100.000, and counties where vaccination rate is below 40%, as of July 2, 2021

Arkansas reported more than 1,200 new coronavirus cases on Friday – its highest tally in nearly five months. The state’s daily coronavirus cases more than doubled over the last two weeks, from around 290 to 600 cases per day, on average. Data compiled by Scripps Research’s Outbreak.info tracker suggests that Delta may account for more than 80% of Arkansas’ new coronavirus infections. That’s among the highest shares of Delta infections in the country.

Hospitalizations have risen in the state as a result: Arkansas’ average is up 42% in the last two weeks, from around 270 to 380 hospitalizations per day.

The state’s health director, Dr. José Romero, blames the low vaccination rate on widespread vaccine hesitancy in rural areas.

arkansas health director
Arkansas Health Director José Romero.

Romero told Insider that the state’s health department arranged for essential workers to get access to shots at their places of work, but demand for the service was low. Even teachers have been reluctant to get their shots, he said: At most, 45% of teachers and staff at Arkansas schools have been vaccinated.

Now, the health department is planning to return to schools and workplaces to offer the shots a second time. Officials are also hosting town halls to address residents’ concerns about vaccine safety, since misinformation on social media has led people to think, falsely, that coronavirus vaccines might increase the risk of infertility.

Since May, Arkansas’ government has also been offering incentives for those who get vaccinated: $20 gift certificates for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission or $20 lottery tickets.

But if those efforts don’t pan out, there’s no backup plan.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Romero said. “We’ve made the vaccine available. We’ve gone the extra mile to make it pretty much on demand if you want it. We’ve made testing available all around the state through various means. I don’t think there’s anything else that we can do at this point.”

Many rural residents don’t see a need to get vaccinated

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Anna Barnard, left, wears a mask as she talks to Greg and Judy Robinson at Dugan’s Pub in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 11, 2020.

Access to shots may still be a problem in Arkansas, despite the state’s efforts. Rural communities are historically hard to reach through vaccination campaigns, and around 42% of Arkansas counties are rural. Research from Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that several Arkansas counties qualify as “vaccine deserts,” with the nearest COVID-19 vaccination site more than a 15-minute drive away.

But Romero doesn’t think that’s the issue.

“We really do have vaccine in every county in the state,” he said. “This is the home of Walmart, and Walmart is a federal partner. I say this tongue-in-cheek: You can’t swing a cat without hitting Walmart. They’re everywhere and they’re distributing the vaccine.”

Romero said he is more concerned about how difficult it has been to convince rural residents that the coronavirus is dangerous, even with the spread of Delta.

“There is a significant population within the state that still doesn’t believe this to be a major health threat,” he said. “They consider themselves not at risk because they’re healthy.”

arkansas football game covid-19
A sign at the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the Georgia Bulldogs played the Arkansas Razorbacks on September 26, 2020.

Even within his own health department, Romero added, there are still employees “that are not believers in the vaccine.”

Arkansas has one of the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy in the country. As of June, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 25% of the state’s population might be hesitant or unsure about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Only three other states – Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming – had higher hesitancy rates.

Arkansas has also struggled to get people to return for their second shots. Romero said 15% of people who had received their first dose of either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine hadn’t gone back for their second as of two weeks ago. Romero said he thinks it’s because many residents were deterred by the side effects of their first dose.

That’s particularly concerning given that new research suggests partially vaccinated people are more vulnerable to symptoms from Delta. A study published Thursday in the journal Nature found that just a single dose of Pfizer’s vaccine was either weakly or not at all effective against the variant.

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Graphs show where the Delta variant is surging fastest in the US, with huge spikes in Missouri, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas

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A man receives a nasal swab COVID-19 test at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport .

  • The number of people infected with the Delta variant has sky-rocketed in four US states, a virus expert said.
  • Delta was now the most common virus strain in Missouri, Utah, Colorado, and Arkansas, Trevor Bedford said.
  • Bedford co-developed Nextstrain, a data platform used by the World Health Organization that tracks virus outbreaks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The number of people infected with the highly infectious Delta has skyrocketed in four US states, according to an expert in virus sequencing.

Trevor Bedford, affiliate associate professor at the department of genome sciences at University of Washington, said on Twitter on Thursday that the Delta variant had displaced the formerly-dominant Alpha variant in Missouri, Utah, Colorado, and Arkansas.

Bedford did not say where he got the data from, but he co-developed Nextstrain, a data platform used by the World Health Organization, that tracks virus outbreaks using publicly available data including from the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data.

The most striking change was in Missouri, where the Alpha variant caused more than 80% of cases in May, and now accounts for about 10% of cases. Meanwhile, the Delta caused about 30% of sequenced cases in May, and more than 80% of new cases now, he said.

Missouri has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the US – 36% of Missourians are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Read more: Experts explain why the mRNA tech that revolutionized COVID-19 vaccines could be the answer to incurable diseases, heart attacks, and even snake bites: ‘The possibilities are endless’

The Delta variant is estimated to be at least twice as infectious as the Alpha variant and has rapidly spread to more than 96 countries. The World Health Organization said in a report released Tuesday that it expected Delta to outcompete other variants worldwide.

Bedford said on June 22 that it was difficult to predict the size of the Delta epidemic, but that he expected it to vary depending on the number of people vaccinated in an area. Real-world data from the UK showed that one dose of Pfizer’s vaccine was just 33% protective against COVID-19 with symptoms caused by Delta, rising to 88% effective after two doses.

Bedford did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the source of the data.

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25 GOP-led states and one Democratic state are cutting $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits. Here are the 26 states making the cut this summer.

GettyImages 1231114054
President Joe Biden.

  • Some Republican governors have decided Americans make too much from expanded unemployment benefits.
  • After a surprisingly dismal April jobs report, they moved to end federal jobless aid early.
  • That also includes eliminating programs benefiting gig workers, freelancers, and the long-term unemployed.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Alabama

kay ivey
Gov. Kay Ivey.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Monday that the state was halting its participation in federal unemployment benefits starting June 19. 

Those include the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program for gig workers and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for the long-term unemployed.

“We have announced the end date of our state of emergency, there are no industry shutdowns, and daycares are operating with no restrictions. Vaccinations are available for all adults. Alabama is giving the federal government our 30-day notice that it’s time to get back to work,” Ivey said in a press release.

Alabama is also resuming its work-search requirements for recipients, which had been paused throughout the pandemic.

The average weekly benefit in Alabama amounted to $283 in March. Its unemployment rate stands at 3.8%, higher than the 2.8% it had in February 2020.

Alabama is among the seven states that have not raised the hourly minimum wage for workers since the hike to $7.25 in 2009

Experts say other factors are keeping workers from jumping back into the labor force, such as a lack of childcare access and fear of COVID-19 infection.

Alaska

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy
Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Alaska will end its participation in the extra $300 in weekly benefits effective June 12. 

“As Alaska’s economy opens up, employers are posting a wide range of job opportunities and workers are needed,” labor and workforce development commissioner, Dr. Tamika L. Ledbetter, said in a statement.

Extensions for the state benefit will continue through September 6. 

Alaska’s unemployment rate was 6.6% in March 2021, a 0.8% increase from the rate of 5.8% in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $298.

Arizona

Doug Ducey Arizona governor
Gov. Doug Ducey.

Gov. Doug Ducey said the state will terminate all federal jobless benefit programs on July 10, per a news release from his office.

Arizona, however, is setting aside some federal funds to provide a one-time $2,000 bonus for people who return to work by Sept. 6. There are some strings attached.

People qualify for the measure if they are already receiving jobless aid — and they must earn less than $25 hourly at their next job. That amounts to a yearly salary of $52,000. Individuals must also work 10 weeks with a new employer to get the cash.

The state last recorded an unemployment rate of 6.7%, higher than the 4.9% it had immediately before the pandemic in February 2020.

Arizona’s average jobless payout is $238.

Arkansas

Asa Hutchinson
Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on May 7 that the state would no longer participate in federal unemployment after June 26. 

“The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this tough time, so it served a good purpose. Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed,” Hutchinson said in a press release, which cited South Carolina’s and Montana’s separate decisions to opt out of the federal assistance program.

Its unemployment rate is 4.4%, slightly higher than the 3.8% level of February 2020. The average weekly benefit in the state is $248.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, 74.7% of the UI Arkansas disbursed came from federal funds, according to a report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. On January 1 of this year, Arkansas’s minimum wage increased to $11 — several dollars above the federal rate of $7.25.

Florida

ron desantis florida vaccine 60 minutes
Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Florida will end its participation in the $300 in additional weekly benefits effective June 26. However, other federal programs, including PUA, “will continue for the time being as DEO [Department of Economic Opportunity] continues to carefully monitor job posting and industry hiring trends.”

In a press release, DEO Secretary Dane Eagle said “transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce.” Florida’s unemployment rate was 4.7% in March 2021, 1.9% higher than 2.8% in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $235.22.

Georgia

brian kemp
Gov. Brian Kemp.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday that the state will end its participation in federal unemployment benefit programs effective June 26.

“Even in the middle of a global pandemic, job growth and economic development in Georgia remained strong — including an unemployment rate below the national average,” Kemp said in a statement. “To build on our momentum, accelerate a full economic recovery, and get more Georgians back to work in good-paying jobs, our state will end its participation in the federal COVID-19 unemployment programs, effective June 26th.”

The Georgia unemployment rate was 4.5% in March 2021, 1% above the February 2020 rate of 3.5%. The state’s average weekly benefit is $278.95.

Idaho

Gov. Brad Little
Gov. Brad Little.

Gov. Brad Little said Idaho would no longer draw federal money to fund enhanced unemployment insurance, and the state will cancel its program on June 19.

It’s time to get back to work,” Little said in a Tuesday statement. “My decision is based on a fundamental conservative principle — we do not want people on unemployment. We want people working.”

The state was among those that recently reimposed a job-seeking requirement for people receiving jobless aid.

Idaho’s unemployment rate stands at 3.2%, a higher level compared to 2.6% in February 2020. The average weekly unemployment benefit in the state is $355, per the Labor Department.

Indiana

GettyImages eric holcomb
Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said the state is terminating all federal unemployment programs effective June 19.

“There are help wanted signs posted all over Indiana, and while our economy took a hit last year, it is roaring like an Indy 500 race car engine now,” Holcomb said in the news release. “I am hearing from multiple sector employers that they want and need to hire more Hoosiers to grow.”

The state is also among those now requiring people to actively seek work while on unemployment.

Indiana’s unemployment rate is 3.9%, higher than the 3.2% it had in February 2020. The average weekly benefit is $254.

Iowa

kim reynolds iowa
Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state would cancel federal jobless benefits on June 12.

“Federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs initially provided displaced Iowans with crucial assistance when the pandemic began,” Reynolds said in a statement. “But now that our businesses and schools have reopened, these payments are discouraging people from returning to work.”

The state’s unemployment rate stood at 3.7%, still slightly higher than the 2.9% it recorded in February 2020. Iowa’s average weekly jobless benefit is $430.

Louisiana

john bel edwards
Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Louisiana is the first Democrat-led state to prematurely cut off its participation in $300 weekly benefits. Those benefits will end July 31.

Last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a bill that would increase the state’s regular weekly benefits by $28. One of the bill’s stipulations was that supplemental unemployment benefits had to end on July 31.

Local news outlet WWLTV reported that, prior to the bill’s passage, the governor had already said he planned on ending benefits in early August, when school begins.

Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 7.1% in May 2021, nearly two points higher than 5.2% in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $175.57.

Maryland

larry hogan
Gov. Larry Hogan.

Maryland will end its participation in all federal unemployment programs effective July 3.

Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement that the state has vaccinated 70% of its adults, hitting the goal set by President Joe Biden, and that Maryland’s “health and economic recovery continues to outpace the nation.”

“While these federal programs provided important temporary relief, vaccines and jobs are now in good supply,” Hogan said. “And we have a critical problem where businesses across our state are trying to hire more people, but many are facing severe worker shortages.”

Maryland’s unemployment rate was 6.2% in April 2021, nearly three points higher than 3.3% in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $318.16.

Mississippi

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves
Gov. Tate Reeves.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Monday that he was pulling out the state from the federal pandemic-aid programs starting June 12.

“It has become clear to me that we cannot have a full economic recovery until we get the thousands of available jobs in our state filled,” Reeves wrote on Twitter.

The average weekly benefit in the state is $195, according to the Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor.

The state’s unemployment rate is 6.3%, a figure still elevated from its pre-pandemic rate of 5.8% in February 2020.

Mississippi is among the seven states that have not lifted hourly pay for workers since the last increase to the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour.

Missouri

missouri gov mike parson
Gov. Mike Parson.

Gov. Mike Parson announced on Tuesday that Missouri would be ending its participation in federal unemployment on June 12. 

“While these benefits provided supplementary financial assistance during the height of COVID-19, they were intended to be temporary, and their continuation has instead worsened the workforce issues we are facing,” Parson said in a statement. “It’s time that we end these programs that have ultimately incentivized people to stay out of the workforce.” 

The average weekly benefit in Missouri amounted to $258.57 in March. Its unemployment rate stood at 4.2% in March, a drop from 4.3% in February. That’s still 0.5% higher than the March 2020 unemployment rate.

Missouri raised its minimum wage to $10.30 on January 1, 2021.

Montana

greg gianforte
Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Gov. Greg Gianforte announced the state was ending federal benefits on June 27.

“Incentives matter, and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good,” Gianforte said in a statement. “We need to incentivize Montanans to reenter the workforce.”

Taking its place will be a $1,200 return-to-work bonus, an amount equivalent to four weeks of receiving federal jobless aid. Workers will be eligible for the cash after a month on the job. The measure enjoys support among some congressional Republicans.

The average weekly benefit in the state is $468 without the federal supplement. The state’s unemployment rate has reached pre-pandemic levels, at 3.8% in April.

Nebraska

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts delivers the annual State of the State Address to lawmakers in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.
Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Nebraska will end its participation in all federal unemployment programs effective June 19.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Gov. Pete Ricketts said the benefits are a “disincentive for some people” in returning to work. The curtailing of benefits come as part of the state’s initiative to reopen and “return to normalcy.”

Nebraska’s unemployment rate was 2.8% in April 2021, lower than 2.9% in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $343.25.

New Hampshire

chris sununu
Gov. Chris Sununu.

Gov. Chris Sununu said on Thursday that he was planning on ending the additional $300 weekly benefit before it’s due to expire, NECN reports. However, the date that benefits will be discontinued in the state remains unclear.

The state will also begin work search requirements for those on UI beginning May 23.

The New Hampshire unemployment rate was 3.0% in March 2021, above the February 2020 rate of 2.6%. The state’s average weekly benefit is $277.26.

North Dakota

doug burgum north dakota trans school sports bill
Gov. Doug Burgum.

Gov. Doug Burgum said the state would pull out of federal unemployment benefit programs on June 19.

“Safe, effective vaccines have been available to every adult in North Dakota for months now, and we have an abundance of job openings with employers who are eager to hire,” Burgum said in a news release, noting the state had its highest number of online job postings since July 2015.

The state’s unemployment rate is 4.4%, still almost double its level of 2.3% in February 2020. North Dakota’s average weekly unemployment payment is $480.

Ohio

Mike-DeWine-2019
Gov. Mike DeWine.

Gov. Mike Dewine said the state will scrap the federal unemployment benefit programs on June 26.

“This assistance was always intended to be temporary,” DeWine said in a statement.

The state’s unemployment rate stands at 4.7%, the same level it had in February 2020. The average weekly benefit in Ohio is $383.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt
Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Gov. Kevin Stitt is dropping all federal unemployment programs starting on June 26.

“That gives people six weeks to get off the sidelines and get back into the game,” he said in a news release.

Stitt also announced that the first 20,000 laid-off workers now receiving benefits that are rehired will get a $1,200 “incentive using funds from the American Rescue Plan.”

People are eligible if they receive some form of federal unemployment aid between May 2 through 15, and keep their new job for at least six weeks. Individuals must also have a 32-hour workweek.

The Oklahoma unemployment rate stands at 5.2%, higher than the 3.1% it had before the pandemic broke out in February last year. The average weekly benefit is $310.

South Carolina

henry mcmaster
Gov. Henry McMaster.

Even before the jobs report hit, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said the state would stop its participation in federal unemployment effective June 30.

“This labor shortage is being created in large part by the supplemental unemployment payments that the federal government provides claimants on top of their state unemployment benefits,” McMaster wrote in a letter to the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce.

McMaster spoke with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson about the expanded unemployment program, saying he believed it’s a “counterproductive policy.”

The average weekly benefit in the state stands at $228. South Carolina’s unemployment rate is 5.1%, still nearly double its pre-pandemic rate of 2.8% in February 2020.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, 76.7% of the unemployment insurance that South Carolina disbursed came from federal funds, according to the report from the Economic Policy Institute. The minimum wage in South Carolina was last raised in 2009, when the federal minimum wage as a whole was increased to $7.25.

South Dakota

Kristi Noem
Gov. Kristi Noem.

Gov. Kristi Noem announced Wednesday that the state will end its participation in federal unemployment benefit programs effective the week of June 26. In a related statement, the state’s Labor and Regulation Secretary Marcia Hultman noted that “help wanted signs line our streets.”

“South Dakota is, and has been, ‘Open for Business.’ Ending these programs is a necessary step towards recovery, growth, and getting people back to work,” Hultman added.

The South Dakota unemployment rate was 2.9% in March 2021, unchanged from 2.9% in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $369.

Tennessee

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.
Gov. Bill Lee.

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that federal unemployment benefits would end in the state effective July 3.

“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” Lee said in a statement. “Families, businesses and our economy thrive when we focus on meaningful employment and move on from short-term, federal fixes.”

The state’s unemployment rate in March 2021 was 5%, a 0.1% increase from the month before and 1% higher than the March 2020 rate. Tennessee’s average weekly unemployment payment is $219.45. Tennessee is one of seven states where the minimum wage remains at the federal level of $7.25.

Texas

greg abbott texas
Gov. Greg Abbott.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he was scrapping all federal unemployment programs on June 26.

“The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said in a statement.

Nearly 1.3 million people in the state will experience a sharp cut in their unemployment aid, per an estimate from Andrew Stettner at the liberal-leaning Century Foundation. It’s the largest state yet to eliminate the programs, with the eliminated aid coming to an estimated $8.8 billion.

The average weekly benefit in Texas is $405. The state’s current 6.9% unemployment rate is still nearly double what it used to be in February 2020.

Utah

AP spencer cox
Gov. Spencer Cox.

Utah is withdrawing from federal unemployment aid programs effective June 26.

“This is the natural next step in getting the state and people’s lives back to normal,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement. “The market should not be competing with the government for workers.”

The state has a 2.9% unemployment rate, slightly higher than the 2.5% pre-pandemic level in February 2020. The average weekly benefit in Utah is $428.

West Virginia

WV Gov Jim Justice
Gov. Jim Justice.

West Virginia will end its participation in federal unemployment benefit programs effective June 19 at midnight.

“We need everyone back to work,” Gov. Jim Justice said in a statement. “Our small businesses and West Virginia’s economy depend on it.”

West Virginia’s unemployment rate was 5.9% in March 2021, 1% above the February 2020 rate of 4.9%. The state’s average weekly benefit is $276.15.

Wyoming

mark gordon
Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gov. Mark Gordon said the state was scrapping the federal unemployment benefit, along with programs aiding gig workers and those who exhausted traditional state payouts.

“Wyoming needs workers, our businesses are raring to go,” Gordon said in a statement. “People want to work, and work is available. Incentivizing people not to work is just plain un-American.”

The Wyoming unemployment rate is 5.3%, slightly higher than the 4.8% it once had in February 2020. The state’s average weekly benefit is $430.

Are you unemployed and have a story you want to share? Contact these reporters at jkaplan@insider.com and jzeballos@insider.com.

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Companies like State Farm and McDonalds say they support LGBT rights, but their franchisees and agents sometimes have other ideas

McDonalds
A McDonalds’ restaurant sign is seen as the restaurant is closed due to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on April 19, 2020 in Southampton, England.

  • Insider investigated the campaign finance records of Arkansas lawmakers who sponsored anti-transgender legislation.
  • Several visibly LGBT-friendly companies, their agents, and franchise owners gave money to the laws’ sponsors.
  • McDonald’s franchise owners and State Farm agents donated a combined $107,000 to the Arkansas legislators.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The franchisees and agents of companies like McDonald’s and State Farm directed vast sums to legislators that backed some of the most anti-LGBT legislation passed this year.

Arkansas was one of several states across the US that enacted legislation restricting trans women from playing on women’s sports teams during the 2021 legislative session and was the only state to pass legislation that aims to remove access to medical care and punish those who treat trans youth.

Insider pored through campaign finance records from the Arkansas Secretary of State for the 76 members of the Arkansas legislature who sponsored House Bill 1570 or Senate Bill 354. We then digitized the records to identify key corporate supporters and found that several corporations that position themselves as LGBT allies have agents, employees, and franchise owners that donated to the sponsors of Arkansas legislation using their company’s name and branding since 2018.

State Farm Insurance, for example, frequently takes part in local Pride Month events and proudly touts the company’s support on its website. State Farm public affairs specialist Michal Brower told Insider that the company does not donate directly to state legislators.

“State Farm does have a Federal PAC (SFF PAC), which allows our employees and agents to collectively provide funds to individual candidates across party lines,” Brower said. “The SFF PAC does not provide contributions to state-level candidates or legislators in Arkansas, past or present.”

But while the company itself did not send money to Arkansas legislators, several of its individual agents donated $72,000 through a separate political action committee: the Arkansas State Farm Association PAC. The two surviving PAC officers did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Much like State Farm, McDonald’s also proudly positions itself as a supportive ally of the LGBT+ community through various digital campaigns and media sponsorships, but McDonald’s franchise owners donated a combined $35,000 to 52 of the sponsors of the anti-trans legislation since 2018 through the McDonald’s Local Owner Operators of Arkansas PAC.

The company promotes on its Diversity and Inclusion webpage that it received a perfect score in each of the last five years on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index. McDonald’s did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

LGBT advocates told Insider that corporate support on Pride Month is inadequate if the company continues to finance the sponsors of deleterious legislation.

“Corporations can’t celebrate Pride with us in June and expect us to look the other way if they fund anti-LGBTQ campaigns, legislators, and activist groups,” GLAAD Rapid Response Manager Mary Emily O’Hara told Insider. “Being a corporate ally means speaking up for what’s right and helping fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination all year long. It’s not just throwing a rainbow on some packaging one month out of the year.”

Read the original article on Business Insider