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Blunt Highlights Challenges MO Small Businesses Face Under Misguided Federal Unemployment Policy

May 19, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) spoke on the Senate floor today to share examples from around Missouri of the challenges small businesses are facing due to federal unemployment insurance policies that are making it harder to hire workers and get the economy back to full speed.

Following Are Blunt’s Remarks:

“Madam President, I was watching Senator Ernst give this speech, and that ‘help wanted' sign, I thought I was back in Springfield, Missouri—my hometown, where I was this weekend. And, there were occasions when I was driving down a block, and I started looking to see if there was a place that didn't have a ‘help wanted’ sign up. They were everywhere: ‘help wanted’ signs, hiring bonuses, rates well above the minimum wage—and our minimum wage is $10.30 in our state—rates well above that being advertised out on the ‘help wanted’ signs.

“You know, we all were disappointed by the job numbers that were issued at the end of April. But obviously, the job numbers didn't reflect the fact that there weren't jobs to be had. It was just that there weren't people taking the jobs to be had. We need to think about everything we can to create an environment where people want to go back to work, where people are encouraged to go back to work, where people who can't go back to work have that basic unemployment benefit. Nobody is begrudging that. But, I think it's clear that we've made some mistakes here.

“Now, many of us were concerned about this when it initially came up, and we were not able to turn back the additional bonus at the time, though the predictions were just too true about what might happen. You know, what small businesses in Missouri are saying is pretty consistent all over the state. In St. Louis, the manager of Mary Ann's Tea Room said, 'it's heartbreaking that the business is there, but I can't hire anyone.' And that restaurant was forced just to close down because they didn't have enough workers. In Kansas City, the president of the Big Biscuit restaurant said, 'we have never had a hiring drought like this before.' And, according to him, he said, ‘there's no doubt we are up against unemployment that's been artificially increased and stimulus payments that give people the opportunity not to show up for work.'

“In Branson, just as the busy summer season is getting underway, the general manager at Mel's Hard Luck Diner says he's so short-staffed that they have to close Sunday evenings now, a time when they would normally be open, just to compensate for the fact that they don't have enough people to do the seven evenings and seven days of business that they were used to doing. He says he can't even get people to show up for a job interview, let alone show up to work. Just down the street in Branson, one of the great theme parks in America, the Silver Dollar City theme park, told me a couple of weeks ago that they could hire 150 people the next day—that would still be their view, by the way—if they could find 150 people, they've got 150 jobs. And, they have more customers than they have people. And so, not everybody can get in the park that would normally be able to come to the park. In Columbia, right in the middle of our state, the owner of Just Jeff's said, 'there is not a person that I come into contact with as a business owner or manager or something like that that isn't in a terrible pinch right now for help.' That's just a snapshot of all we're seeing. I talked to one person who runs a family hotel chain, it's a big family hotel chain based in St. Louis. He said, ‘we've got the customers now are coming back, but we don't have the help. We could fill more rooms than we're filling if we had people that could clean the rooms and get them ready the next day.’

“Businesses are ready to be back and be fully open, but they don't have the workers they need. We had an amendment in the CARES Act, one of the five bipartisan bills we passed last year, that would have prevented people from making more when they're unemployed than when they're working. I said at the time when I voted for that amendment that I was concerned that these enhanced unemployment benefits would really create a time when people didn't want to go back to work. And unfortunately, that's exactly what happened in Missouri and around the country.

“It's been a tough year. We all know that for small business owners. We stepped up, tried to think of early ways to keep people on their payrolls rather than the unemployment rolls. And by the way, even at that time, many of those businesses were saying, 'well, that's a great idea. We'd like to keep them on our payroll, but they can make more money on the unemployment roll. Is that fair to them, to not let them go to this unemployment that the government and its policies made so appealing? Trying to fight the worst public health crisis ever … and trying to keep a business afloat. And now they're trying to figure out, as we come out of the public health crisis, what did we do that made it hard to keep that business going.

“You know, that misguided government policy, that comment Ronald Reagan used to make is 'one of the scariest things you could hear, ‘I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'" This seems to be a case where that truly has become a scary thing. The government—trying to help, trying to reach out and do what at least a majority of our colleagues thought was the right thing—has created a situation that is different than it needs to be. 21 states have now either decided to stop participating already or announced they're going to stop participating. Governor Parson in Missouri made that decision. As Senator Ernst mentioned, the governor of Iowa made, and 19 other governors have made, that decision.

“The average unemployment in the state in America right now is $618 a week. That's the average. That includes the $300 that the federal government has put into every one of those checks that are still going out at that level. That's $15.46 an hour. It's certainly one way to mandate a $15 hourly pay rate is just to decide that's what you're going to make if you're unemployed. Well, it hasn't worked. It won't work. Our state of Missouri and other states are moving away from this.

“In Washington, we make policies, and one of our responsibilities is to be sure that we're keeping an eye on unintended consequences. And, the law of unintended consequences is one of the great certainties of making law, and we need to watch out for that, and we've got a huge unintended consequence here. We saw what happened when—now the Biden administration is trying to explain why it's not their policies that appear to be slowing the recovery down. But, we all know that this is part of that problem.

“We've done something to cause this problem. We need to figure out how to solve this problem. This should not be something that states, one at a time, reject. We need to get our economy back on track as quickly as possible. There is virtue in work, and I hope we make work more appealing again than not working. Thank you, Madam President.”

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