Commissioner Court Boice is recommending the state offer bonuses to all individuals who return to the workforce and remove themselves from the unemployment benefits program.
Citing a labor shortage in the county, Boice recommended the board draft a letter to be sent to Governor Kate Brown, as well as state legislative bodies, requesting the adoption of a $1,000 bonus for individuals who return to work and cancel their unemployment benefits.
“Everyone in this part of Oregon...they’re very concerned about their restaurants and their workers and anyway we can take pressure off them and get people back to work,” said Boice.
Boice pointed to similar moves in other states, including Montana, where the state government plans to cancel additional $300 of weekly unemployment benefits through Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and instead offer one-time, return to work payments of $1,200, according to news reports.
Commissioner John Herzog was not in favor of the move.
“You don’t reward bad habits...I’m 64 and I don’t ever remember doing any kind of unemployment,” said Herzog.
Commissioner Chris Paasch echoed Herzog’s concerns.
“I don’t know when we became a nation of handouts… I’m not blaming any party, I’m not making this a political thing, it just seems like entitlements in this nation have grown out of control,” said Paasch.
Paasch said they should instead reward hospital, restaurant and law enforcement workers, who did not stop working during the pandemic.
Boice said getting people back into the workforce was his primary concern, and the reason for his request.
In a presentation to the board, Kyle Stevens, program manager at the Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board, said the state is adding new barriers to the unemployment benefit system.
Among the changes, claimants will soon have to make a skills profile on the unemployment department website in order to still receive benefits. Stevens said the profile is meant to help match potential employees with employers looking for certain skills. Additionally, claimants will have to complete a welcome process beginning in July.
“This should hopefully start to kick some people loose, it should make it a little tougher,” said Stevens.
Stevens said there are 1,332 letters going out to individuals in the county who have claimed unemployment benefits at some point during the past month.
With the changes, Stevens warned the unemployment department may soon be overwhelmed by claimant questions and appointment requests. He said it currently takes the unemployment department about two weeks to respond to claimant questions.
Ultimately, the board chose not to move forward with Boice’s proposal due to lack of interest from other members of the board.