Republican governors hate unemployed people … unless they’re anti-vaxxers

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Back in the spring and summer, Republican governors in one state after another cut off unemployment benefits in an attempt to force people—who were supposedly sitting home, being lazy—back into the labor market. Now? Some of those same Republican governors are offering unemployment benefits to people who quit their jobs rather than get a COVID-19 vaccination.

A new Iowa law opposing vaccination mandates, requiring businesses to offer exemptions from mandates for extremely broad reasons, included a provision that “an individual who is discharged from employment for refusing to receive a vaccination against COVID-19 … shall not be disqualified for benefits on account of such discharge,” a move Gov. Kim Reynolds described as “the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs.”

It came nine days after Reynolds announced a plan to make it more difficult for people to collect unemployment, doubling the number of weekly work searches required and imposing strict audits, and less than six months after she announced she’d be cutting off expanded federal unemployment benefits because “these payments are discouraging people from returning to work.”

The federal unemployment benefits were not discouraging people from returning to work: JPMorgan noted at the time that it “looks like politics, not economics, is driving decisions regarding the early ends to these programs.” After the cutoffs, data showed that people didn’t flood back into the workplace after unemployment aid was slashed.

It’s not just Iowa.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee went from rejecting expanded federal unemployment benefits—because “We are paying people to stay home. That needs to change”—to signing a law that gives unemployment benefits to people who leave their jobs rather than get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Same in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis railed against people on unemployment in May and in November signed legislation that not only lets people collect unemployment after leaving a job over a vaccination mandate but lets them refuse a job with a vaccination requirement and continue collecting aid.

All of these states ban people from collecting unemployment if they were fired or refused a job over a failed drug test, Slate’s William Saletan notes. But refusing a vaccination that could not only save their own lives but help bring a deadly pandemic to an end? That is a right that must be defended, say Republicans.

The help on offer is limited by the existing Republican policies of these states: Florida and Tennessee have a maximum weekly unemployment benefit of $275, though Iowa’s is higher, at $651. But the principle remains: According to Republicans, people who were unemployed because they were afraid to expose themselves to COVID-19 on the job, or who had caregiving responsibilities, or who weren’t willing to take the lowest possible offer at an abusive workplace were scapegoated and refused help. People who refuse a safe, free vaccine that is a public health necessity are valorized and protected. It’s one more way these Republican governors are actively politicizing vaccination and endangering us all.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.



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