Biden to Address Economy as G.O.P. Takes Aim at Jobless Benefits

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Politics|Biden says employers should help workers get vaccines and pay more to help bring people back to work.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/10/us/politics/biden-economy.html

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‘Moving in the Right Direction,’ Biden Says of Economic Growth

On Monday, President Biden gave an update on the economic outlook for the country after a disappointing monthly jobs report on Friday. The president maintained in his speech that economic growth was continuing, despite pandemic losses.

As we learned Friday, the economy created 266,000 jobs in April. In fact, altogether, since the time we took office, we’ve created more than 1.5 million jobs in the country. It’s the most jobs created in the first 100 days of any president on record. We’re moving in the right direction. So let’s be clear: Our economic plan is working. I never said, and no serious analyst ever suggested, that climbing out of the deep, deep hole our economy was in would be simple, easy, immediate or perfectly studied. Remember, 22 million Americans lost their jobs in this pandemic. So some months will exceed expectations, others will fall short. The question is: What is the trend line? Are we headed in the right direction? Are we taking the right steps to keep it going? And the answer clearly is yes.

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On Monday, President Biden gave an update on the economic outlook for the country after a disappointing monthly jobs report on Friday. The president maintained in his speech that economic growth was continuing, despite pandemic losses.CreditCredit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

Jim Tankersley

May 10, 2021, 11:08 a.m. ET

President Biden on Monday said his administration was taking steps that would make it easier for employers to hire new workers and to help more people take jobs, following several days of criticism from Republicans over a disappointing employment report released on Friday.

In remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden sought to shift the focus from a federally enhanced unemployment benefit — which critics say has fueled a labor shortage that is holding back the job market — and onto American corporations. He said companies need to help workers get vaccinated and to pay them more, after receiving $1.4 trillion in Covid-19 relief from the federal government over the past year.

Mr. Biden also said his administration would make clear that any worker who turns down a suitable job offer, with rare exceptions for health fears related to the virus, would lose access to unemployment benefits. To ensure those rules are being followed, the Labor Department will work with states to reinstate work search requirements. Those rules, which require that anyone collecting unemployment benefits provide proof that they are actively searching for work, were suspended during the pandemic.

Twenty-nine states have already reinstated them and the Labor Department, according to a statement released by the White House, will “work with the remaining states, as health and safety conditions allow, to put in place appropriate work search requirements as the economy continues to rebound, vaccinations increase, and the pandemic is brought under control.”

But the president again rejected calls by Republicans to end the $300 weekly bonus for the unemployed, saying economic data suggest school closures, child care constraints and incomplete vaccine coverage are playing a larger role in constraining hiring.

“We’ll insist that the law is followed with respect to benefits, but we’re not going to turn our backs on our fellow Americans,” Mr. Biden said. “Twenty-two million people lost their jobs in this pandemic, through no fault of their own.” He added: “For many of those folks, unemployment benefits are a lifeline.”

Mr. Biden called on companies to “step up” by helping workers access vaccines and raising wages. “We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” he said.

The president also pointed to new guidance issued Monday by the Treasury Department that will help state, local and tribal governments access more than $350 billion in relief funds made available by the American Rescue Plan, which he signed into law in March. He said that money would help speed hiring and economic growth.

The details of how Treasury will disburse those funds, which can be spent on pandemic-related costs, have been eagerly awaited by the states, cities, territories and tribal governments that are expected to receive money. But several Republican-led states and the Biden administration are in a legal confrontation over whether states can cut taxes after taking relief money and using it to solidify their budgets.

A fact sheet accompanying the announcement about the distribution on Monday made clear that the relief money cannot be used to subsidize tax cuts directly or indirectly, which could discourage some states from accepting funds.

The Labor Department reported on Friday that the economy added 266,000 jobs in April, well below the 1 million jobs that most forecasters expected. Republicans quickly criticized Mr. Biden for the disappointment and blamed a provision in his rescue plan that extended a $300-per-week federal supplement for unemployed Americans. They say those benefits are depressing hiring by discouraging Americans from returning to work.

“It is a terrible jobs report, not what we were expecting at all,” Gov. Spencer Cox, Republican of Utah, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “But that’s what happens when we pay people not to work.”

An aide to Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, emailed reporters on Monday, accusing Mr. Biden of placing “handcuffs” on the recovery by extending the jobless benefits.

Mr. Biden rejected that critique on Monday, saying, “Let’s be clear: Our economic plan is working.” But he said recovery would not always prove to be easy or even.

“Some months will exceed expectations,” he added, “others will fall short.”

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