Speed Reads

coronavirus and the economy

Laid-off employees reluctant to return to reopened jobs may lose unemployment benefits

Several states are lifting their COVID-19 mitigation orders Friday, allowing many businesses to reopen, usually with some health precautions in place. In Georgia, for example, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is lifting shelter-in-place orders for most of the state, even with 37 new coronavirus deaths and 227 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is allowing restaurants, movie theaters, and retail stores to reopen at 25 percent capacity, a record 50 deaths and 1,033 new cases of COVID-19 were registered Thursday.

The businesses that choose to reopen need workers, and the workers being called back to their jobs face some tough choices.

Some states, most with Republican governors, have underscored that laid-off or furloughed employees who refuse to return to work will be aggressively barred from collecting unemployment benefits. "That's a voluntary quit," said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R). "Therefore, they would not be eligible for the unemployment money." In Oklahoma, where the minimum wage is $7.25, state economic officials encouraged employers to report unwilling workers and discussed scrapping the federal $600-a-week unemployment add-on to encourage people to return to work.

"These states are offering people the choice to endanger your life or starve," says the AFL-CIO's Damon Silvers.

Texas announced Thursday it will relax its unemployment rules so people at high risk of dying from COVID-19, workers who live with high-risk people, or those without child care can still collect unemployment benefits. But everyone else faces some hard choices, especially in the food service industry, as ProPublica's Jessica Huseman explains.

Texas businesses are making it easier for some workers. None of the major movie chains are reopening — they have no new movies to show, Texas Monthly notes — and some smaller and independent restaurants are opting to keep their dining rooms closed rather than reopen with 25 percent of seats. "All restaurants are not created equal as far as ability to generate revenue," Emily Williams Knight, head of the Texas Restaurant Association, tells The Texas Tribune.