Joining a list of other states whose leaders say the pandemic-boosted jobless benefit is leading to a labor shortage, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said the state’s unemployed will no longer receive the $300 weekly COVID-19 stimulus payment, as well as other federal unemployment programs tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective June 26.

“This is the natural next step in getting the state and people’s lives back to normal,” Cox said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday morning, which says he is encouraged by positive job growth.

“I believe in the value of work. With the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.9% and plenty of good paying jobs available today, it makes sense to transition away from these extra benefits that were never intended to be permanent. The market should not be competing with government for workers.”

Other “safety net programs” will still be available, Cox’s office noted in Wednesday’s press release, such as rent, utility, food and medical assistance.

Cox is the latest of a growing number of Republican governors rejecting increased unemployment benefits meant to help Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, GOP governors of Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee and Idaho announced their states would be opting out of the programs. Governors from Alabama, Mississippi and North Dakota made similar announcements Monday, joining Montana, South Carolina and Arkansas, where officials announced their move away from the program by the end of June.

The announcements come as many U.S. employers tell stories of being unable to hire employees. As the U.S. economy rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, employers say they’re desperate for workers.

That challenge was highlighted Friday when employers nationwide added 266,000 jobs, far fewer than expected, and businesses reported they couldn’t find people to fill the openings they have to keep up with the rapidly strengthening economic rebound.

To encourage people to return to work, more states are making it harder for people to stay on unemployment. Many blame the easy benefits that followed the pandemic, including the $300-a-week supplemental federal payment on top of state benefits. Their argument is that people make more money staying home than going back to work.

Several states have begun requiring those receiving unemployment benefits to show they are actively searching for work, and a few will stop providing the additional federal supplement.

President Joe Biden, however, has argued the enhanced federal benefits aren’t why people aren’t going back to work.

“The line has been because of the generous unemployment benefits, that it’s a major factor in labor shortages. Americans want to work. Americans want to work,” Biden said on Monday, CBS News reported. “I think the people claiming Americans won’t work even if they find a good and fair opportunity underestimate the American people.” 

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Labor experts say the shortage is not just about the $300 payment. Some unemployed people also have been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus. Others have found new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, pointed to those factors while expressing his frustration with Cox’s decision to end the benefits in Utah.

“I mean, this is the perfect example of a disconnect between people in regular lives and people who are struggling to get back on their feet,” King said. “There are many, many people who are concerned — afraid — about returning to the workplace.”

What “frustrates me the most,” King said, is Cox’s decision “reflects this thinking of many on the other side of the aisle that people don’t want to work. That’s fundamentally wrong.”

King, who owns a law firm where he works as an attorney specializing in insurance claims, said he’s had “very few people coming to me and saying anything other than, ‘I very badly want to get back to work, and I can’t do it.’”

“I’m not saying there’s nobody out there that wouldn’t take advantage of the system,” King added, “but the reality is ... it’s a very low number.”

“And the frustrating thing to me is they’re pulling the rug out from under a bunch of people who rely on the assistance,” King said, noting that in order to receive those benefits Utahns had to have already gone through the process of qualifying for unemployment.”

For businesses who are struggling to find employees, King said perhaps they need to pay more to be more competitive.

“That’s the world we live in, it’s called a free market,” King said, adding there’s “nothing wrong” with employees expecting more from their employers. “We’re so used to looking at things from the perspective of the employer. ... How about workers for crying out loud?”

In Utah, about 28,000 Utahns are currently receiving the additional $300-per-week federal benefit, according to the governor’s office. Of those, 11,000 are receiving federal extended benefits, 2,500 individuals receive federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and 200 receive federal Mixed-Earner Unemployment Compensation. Currently, federal pandemic unemployment assistance in Utah totals $12.4 million a week. 

“With the state’s economic recovery in full swing, there is no shortage of jobs in Utah,” Cox’s office said in a press release, noting Utah’s Department of Workforce Services website, jobs.utah.gov, has 50,000 available job openings, while job listings aggregator Help Wanted shows 72,000 available jobs in Utah. 

“As employers compete for workers, we are ready to help those local businesses recruit and hire employees,” Casey Cameron, executive director of the Department of Workforce Services, said in a prepared statement, “For job seekers, we can provide career coaching, education assistance, job search help and more, either online or in-person at an employment center. For many workers, this transition can be a great time to gain additional skills and open doors to new opportunities.”

Utah’s business community leaders applauded Cox’s decision to end participation in the federal program.

“All across Utah, in a variety of industries, we are seeing the significant need for new employees,” Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance, said in a prepared statement. “The challenge our economy currently faces is not the scarcity of well-paying jobs, but the lack of workers. For our state to remain a national economic leader and for our communities to be prosperous, we need to normalize the labor market by assisting those currently unemployed to find opportunities to rejoin the workforce as soon as possible.”

The Utah Democratic Party criticized Cox for the move in a tweet posted Wednesday.

“All talk, all friendly on Twitter, then the wrong choices — that’s just how @SpencerJCox rolls,” the party posted. “Gov. Cox is failing Utah and our neighbors by ending pandemic unemployment benefits. COVID-19 is far from over, and treating it like it is will only exacerbate it.”

Cox’s office noted the state and the Utah System of Higher Education has dedicated $16.5 million to help over 5,700 Utahns get training and find better employment opportunities. An additional $15 million will be awarded over the next several weeks to training institutions throughout the state to help those who want to upgrade their skills. Funding is also available for career and education advancement through the states’ Department of Workforce Services, Cox’s office stated in Wednesday’s news release.

Those who need help finding employment can visit jobs.utah.gov for more information about additional pandemic relief programs and details about the federal unemployment insurance programs ending.

Contributing: Associated Press