COVID-19 vaccination politics have entered a new era of ridiculousness.
Irony abounds on both sides of the aisle, but lately Republicans have stepped too far by reversing themselves on the use of unemployment benefits.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) signed HF902 on Oct. 29 to provide unemployment benefits for workers who lost their jobs because they refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ironically, this was just nine days after she announced that the state would be cracking down on Iowans who were receiving unemployment benefits unnecessarily.
On Oct. 20, Reynolds had announced that unemployment recipients would have to meet weekly with state case managers, conduct twice as many job searches, and undergo audits to prove they are trying to find work.
The previous system gave Iowans five weeks to begin the Iowa Workforce Development process. Under the new plan, they begin the first week of unemployment.
HF902 is a radical shift in who qualifies for unemployment benefits.
Traditionally, employees who willingly leave their job or are fired for misconduct (which would include refusal to comply with a company’s employment requirements) are not eligible for unemployment benefits.
In a press statement, Reynolds proclaimed, “I am proud to sign this bipartisan piece of legislation today. This is a major step forward in protecting Iowans’ freedom and their abilities to make healthcare decisions based on what is best for themselves and their families.”
Reynolds is not the first Republican governor to flip-flop on unemployment benefit requirements.
In May, Governor Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida announced that he would end the $300 extra weekly COVID-19 unemployment benefits by July 26, asserting that it discourages people from returning to work.
Now, Florida is providing unemployment benefits to anyone who loses their job for refusing to comply with their company’s vaccine requirements.
Tennessee followed the same pattern this summer, with Governor Bill Lee (R) ending the federal government’s supplemental COVID-19 unemployment benefits. His argument was the same as other GOP governors: “We are paying people to stay home. That needs to change.”
Then, on Nov. 12, he signed legislation to provide unemployment benefits for unvaccinated workers.
Kansas might actually have gone the furthest among the GOP-led states. HB 2001, signed by Governor Laura Kelly (D) at the end of November, extends unemployment benefits to workers who lose their jobs due to a failure to comply with employer vaccine mandates.
It also allows workers to receive benefits as long as they are turning down work that requires a vaccine, and there is an implied promise of retroactive benefit payments for those who already lost their jobs.
This specifically applies to health care workers, as almost all of them would be able to continually decline viable job offers because health care employers are subject to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The irony should be evident but let me state it anyway.
The GOP has railed against so-called “entitlement programs” such as unemployment benefits, declaring that they disincentive work, and has advocated for self-reliance and government non-intervention for decades.
Yet, they are now actively encouraging people not to work for companies that enact vaccine requirements and passing legislation to ensure that they receive unemployment benefits.
This reversal is more than comical. It is dangerous.
This has the potential to fuel an already dangerously low health care worker shortage in the midst of a pandemic. This is an irresponsible move by the party that claims to champion personal responsibility.
Unfortunately, these decisions are purely political and not about protecting people who stand up for their convictions. These actions are about a party that says it champions “small government” deciding to take government action to penalize employers who either follow the federal vaccination mandate or decide to enact one on their own.
But then many of these same governors decried mandates requiring mask-wearing and then enacted their own mandates that said mask-wearing couldn’t be required.
Perhaps they don’t realize that a government mandate is a government mandate, whether it declares masks are required or that they cannot be required.
It is a common misconception that unemployment claims do not cost employers real money.
The unemployment benefit system is actually an insurance program. Employers pay a percentage of their taxable payroll into unemployment insurance in order to cover the claims of workers who have lost their jobs.
Just like having multiple car insurance claims over a short period of time will increase one’s premium, excess unemployment claims will increase an employer’s unemployment insurance burden. In some cases, it can triple it or more.
Therefore, extending unemployment benefits to workers who decided not to get a COVID-19 vaccine is a penalty upon employers who are within their right to require workers to be vaccinated, as was decided in Virginia Mason v Washington State Nurses Association.
The GOP governors are punishing businesses in their state either for enacting a vaccine mandate because they see it as the best decision for their company or for following the federal mandates that are currently tied up in the courts.
Yes, there are significant legal questions about the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates and they are working their way through the court system, but this is how our federal government works.
When the executive branch issues an order people do not like or that they believe should have come from the legislative branch, then we turn to the judicial branch to help sort the matter out.
The whole system works on a series of checks and balances to ensure that personal freedoms are respected and that the government can take appropriate steps to “promote the general welfare” of the nation, which includes public health matters.
The attempt to inappropriately use a government program, or to threaten to shut down the government, in order to win a political victory is never appropriate.
The Constitution has a mechanism to resolve these types of disputes, and that process has begun.
Republicans should take a step back to focus upon their core values and let the system do its job.