Editorial: Holcomb’s measured approach on unemployment benefits is right path

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Gov. Eric Holcomb’s measured approach to adjusting the state’s unemployment benefits is just the right touch in these delicate times, as Indiana eases itself out of the pandemic’s economic doldrums.

What is required is a careful balancing act between encouraging people to get back to work to fill the many available jobs and continuing to offer support to people who can’t find work similar to what they had before the pandemic hit more than a year ago.

Helping to strike that balance was the governor’s decision late last week to reinstate a requirement that those applying to collect unemployment benefits actively seek jobs and be available for work—a requirement the state has waived since the beginning of the pandemic.

That move, in combination with his decision to carefully consider whether the state should continue to participate in the federal government’s expansive pandemic unemployment programs, sets just the right tone.

Some Hoosiers might continue to need help from the federal safety net, which expands who is eligible for unemployment and boosts payments.

Hoosier recipients are currently receiving $300 per week from the federal government in addition to state benefits, and the governor needs to carefully craft rules to make sure those with ongoing needs receive help.

At the same time, it is clear that some workers who previously made less than $15 an hour are choosing to stay home on the expanded unemployment benefits and need some incentive to return to the workforce.

With the state and federal benefits combined, an unemployed Hoosier could receive as much as $690 per week, although most receive less. That’s the equivalent of $17.25 an hour based on a 40-hour work week.

Generous unemployment benefits, child care concerns and ongoing fears of catching the coronavirus are among the factors that led to a record-high 8 million job openings across the nation in March—many of them in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

Requiring those Hoosiers who are simply enamored with the unemployment benefits to actively seek work is a fitting nudge. Another option to consider is Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s unique approach of offering residents a one-time return-to-work bonus.

Holcomb also must weigh whether Indiana should continue to participate in a federal program that assists gig-economy workers such as Uber drivers and other independent contractors, who are traditionally not eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

None of these decisions is easy in the complicated economic maze left in the wake of the pandemic.

And while this public health emergency quickly plunged us into economic uncertainty, the road to recovery must be a series of gradual and carefully considered steps.

Throughout the pandemic, Holcomb has proven himself quite capable of taking well-reasoned and measured moves—often over the objections of the ultra conservatives in his own political party.

We believe he, again, is on the right path.•

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