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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Idaho, Utah, Wyoming Governors Nix Expanded Unemployment Benefits

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Four states in the Mountain West are opting out of the federal government's $300-a-week pandemic unemployment compensation.

The Republican governors of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming announced their decisions this week. They follow Montana, which last week became the first state in the nation to drop the unemployment supplement that the American Rescue Plan extended into September.

The governors cite labor shortages and point to their state's low unemployment rates. The added payments will end in the second half of June.

Montana will issue one-time back-to-work bonuses of $1,200 in lieu of the weekly compensation, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced last week.

University of Montana economist Bryce Ward said the governors' moves might coax some people back into the workforce as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to drop. But it depends how much the pandemic is the cause of labor shortages. The region has also seen skyrocketing housing prices and tight rental markets, making it tough to attract new workers.

"It's very hard to import workers when there are no houses for them to move to. There's literally no place to go," Ward said. "I've heard this from multiple people who have hired people from out-of-state. Like, 'Well, we've hired somebody but they can't come because they can't find a house.'"

Jason Shogren, an economist at the University of Wyoming, said ending the assistance will no doubt encourage some folks to return to work – and make things a lot more difficult for others.

"I can imagine single parents who have not had to look for childcare this past year because they've been home and getting unemployment, it's going to be a double whammy on them," he said.

Other ways to get people back to work?

"The most obvious is raising wages," Shogren said.

Idaho, Utah and Wyoming have minimum wages of $7.25 an hour. It's $8.75 in Montana.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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