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Are COVID-19 jobless benefits keeping ‘healthy, able-bodied workers’ at home? Republicans, Pritzker disagree

Illinoisans collecting unemployment insurance receive an extra $300 a week from the federal government, intended to help them through the pandemic. So far, 18 Republican governors have said they will not allow the extra benefits. Two Illinois Republicans say Pritzker shouldn’t, either.

Republican candidate for governor Gary Rabine, left; State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, center; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right.
Republican candidate for governor Gary Rabine, left, in March; Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey, center; Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, in January.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file; Facebook

SPRINGFIELD — Two Republican gubernatorial hopefuls want Illinois to join a growing number of states opting out of extra federal unemployment benefits earmarked for those out of work due to the pandemic.

But Gov. J.B. Pritzker says his Republican opponents just think those benefiting from these programs are “lazy” and that he won’t “pull the rug out from under people.”

Right now, Illinoisans collecting unemployment insurance receive an extra $300 a week from the federal government, intended to help them through the pandemic. Individual governors can opt their states out of that benefit. So far, 18 Republican governors have announced they will not allow their citizens to receive additional money in their unemployment checks.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Rabine called on Pritzker to follow suit last Friday, saying that the weekly $300 makes “small businesses unable to find workers to fill their openings.”

Republican businessman Gary Rabine launches his gubernatorial run in Schaumburg in March.
Republican businessman Gary Rabine speaks to supporters as he launches his gubernatorial run at Rabine Group offices at 900 National Parkway in Schaumburg in March.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

“As I travel this state, I see ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere and when I talk to the business owners, I hear the same thing — they can’t fill the jobs,” Rabine said. “I don’t blame workers for choosing unemployment benefits over going to a job.

“It makes total sense to get the same pay or in some cases higher pay staying home than dealing with going to work every day. I don’t blame anyone for making a logical decision, but at the same time we need healthy, able-bodied workers to return to the workforce.”

Rabine is the millionaire owner of an Illinois-based paving company and has strongly backed former President Donald Trump, calling his four years in office “the strongest job creation administration in my lifetime” during his campaign launch.

Rival GOP gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey joined Rabine in calling for Illinois to opt out of the unemployment benefits.

“The government over-incentivizes healthy people to stay home which closes businesses and destroys local economies,” the state senator and farmer from downstate Xenia said. “For the last year, I have been standing up for hardworking Illinoisans and advocating to reopen our state and get people back to work.”

State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, kicks off his bid for governor in downstate Effingham in February.
State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, kicks off his bid for governor in downstate Effingham in February.
BlueRoomStream

Asked about the unemployment benefits at an unrelated news conference Monday, Pritzker said “there is some talk among Republicans that somehow people are lazy, that they don’t want to work because ‘Gee, they’re getting an extra $300 dollars.’”

The Chicago billionaire said that view was “not in reality.”

“The reality is there are many people who have children at home that they still need to take care of because of the pandemic.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is asking a federal appeals court to vacate the Shakman consent decree and end federal oversight of Illinois’ state employment practices.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Thompson Center last year.
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

“There are people who are afraid to go back to work ... and those are legitimate reasons people might want to remain on unemployment,” said Pritzker. “I don’t want to pull the rug out from under people who have certainly legitimate reasons for needing unemployment.”

Pritzker also noted that “our economy is already improving” with 93,000 new jobs created in the first four months of 2021, which he called “a lot of progress.”

Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, in early January.
Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, in early January.
From Facebook

But Rabine said that only “a paltry 266,000 jobs” were added nationally in April, which he says “suggests the federal unemployment benefits are keeping workers out of the workplace.”

Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, the third announced Republican gubernatorial candidate, could not immediately be reached for comment.