Biden

President Joe Biden speaks with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards as he arrives in Lake Charles May 6. The president and governor compared their pocket Rosaries.

Saying that enhanced federal unemployment benefits are crimping business' ability to hire workers, nearly a dozen GOP governors have announced they're prematurely turning off the spigot on $300 in additional weekly jobless aid. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has made no such commitment. 

"We are not aware of any conversations about ending these federal benefits in Louisiana," said Edwards' press secretary Christina Stephens Wednesday.

The $300 weekly bonuses, which are added on top of benefits already issued by the state, are set to last into September thanks to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan pass by Congressional Democrats in March. 

By executive action, a governor can opt out of those benefits. That's what states like Alabama and Arkansas have decided in recent days, arguing that the benefits are dissuading workers from seeking employment. 

Dawn Starns McVea, who heads up Louisiana's chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, wants Edwards to follow suit. 

"We're back open. There's no reason for unemployment benefits to linger when there are jobs all over the place," said McVea, whose group represents around 3,800 privately owned businesses in the state.  

McVea cited an NFIB report from April which found that 44% of small business owners nationwide have job openings they can't fill. She said 31% of their members have reported upping their wages to attract workers. 

Jan Moller, the executive director of the left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project, said it would be "absolutely horrible policy to take unemployment benefits away from people who have suffered the most during this pandemic."

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Moller noted that Louisiana's economy is heavily reliant on tourism and energy extraction — industries that have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic and have yet to fully recover. He added that the pandemic still isn't over and said many people still face issues with finding childcare. 

"A healthy economy is not measured by an unlimited availability of people willing to work at or near the minimum wage," Moller said. 

Louisiana offers a maximum weekly benefit of just $247, among the lowest in the country. 

The state's unemployment rate was 6.6% in March, better than the 7.1% unemployment rate in February but up from 5.3% a year ago, according to data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

McVea wants lawmakers to put a portion of the state's $3.2 billion in federal coronavirus aid into a fund that will offer cash incentives for those who return back to work. Montana recently announced it would pay employees who return to work by May 4 a $1,200 hiring bonus. 

A measure to that effect is likely to be introduced Thursday in the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, McVea said. 

"Right now, we have small businesses competing with government," McVea said. "The longer folks stay on unemployment and don't show up for work, that's going to impact Main Street's ability to get back to full capacity."

President Joe Biden has rejected the idea that enhanced benefits are keeping unemployed workers sitting at home.

"Americans want to work," Biden said during remarks on the economy Monday. "We still have 8 million fewer jobs than we did when the pandemic started. And for many of those folks, unemployment benefits are a lifeline. No one should be allowed to game the system and we'll insist the law is followed, but let's not take our eye off the ball."

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater