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James McAllister

James McAllister is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Iowa updates eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance program

The Iowa Department of Workforce Development issued a rule on January 10, 2022, that doubled the number of work search activities claimants have to conduct weekly from two to four. Work search activity refers to the requirement that an individual engages in documented efforts to search for work while receiving benefits through unemployment insurance. The rule also reduced the number of qualifying work search activities from 27 to a narrower list of 12.

Unemployment insurance claimants have to respond to calls they receive from state career councilors and may have to meet with a counselor weekly to remain eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. Not all workers will have to meet with a career councilor under the policy, but all claimants have to respond if they are contacted.

Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

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Michigan governor signs executive order establishing unemployment fraud response team

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) on Dec. 29, 2021, signed Executive Order 2021-16, which established an unemployment fraud response team to recommend actions to the director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and the heads of other executive departments for reducing the number of fraudulent unemployment insurance claims the state pays. The order also tasked the response team with helping to coordinate and expedite law enforcement activities related to unemployment insurance fraud.

Whitmer issued the order the same day the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency released a report that found the state paid up to $8.51 billion dollars in fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits between March 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. The report estimated that 97% of the fraudulent payments were federally funded, and 3% were paid out of Michigan’s State Unemployment Trust Fund.

The order will terminate the response team on Dec. 31, 2023.

Unemployment insurance refers to a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

For more information on Michigan’s unemployment insurance program, click here. For information about unemployment insurance programs across the country, click here.

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Illinois to stop debit card unemployment insurance payments

Photo of the Illinois State Capitol building

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced on Nov. 22, 2021, that unemployment insurance payments through state-issued debit cards would end starting Dec. 27, 2021. IDES said payments would continue through paper checks and direct deposit. Claimants will still be able to access the funds on their debit cards after December 27 until their cards expire. 

KeyBank, the debit card vendor for IDES, decided to stop providing the debit cards but did not provide a reason for the change.

Unemployment insurance is a term that refers to a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

For more information on Illinois’ unemployment insurance program, click here. For information about unemployment insurance programs across the country, click here.

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What is your state’s unemployment tax rate?

State unemployment taxes are employment taxes employers must pay to support the joint federal-state unemployment insurance program. State unemployment taxes are also known as SUTA taxes, state unemployment insurance (SUI) taxes, or reemployment taxes.

Employers usually pay a percentage of an employee’s salary in SUTA taxes up to the wage base (the maximum amount of wages per employee on which an employer must pay unemployment taxes). The SUTA tax rate varies by state and by the employer’s experience rating, which allows states to collect unemployment taxes from employers according to the amount of unemployment insurance benefits drawn by their former employees. The more unemployment claims an employer has, the higher their experience rating and state unemployment tax (SUTA) rate.

For example, Alabama’s wage base is $8,000 and the maximum SUTA tax rate is 6.8% (for employers with many unemployment claims). The maximum SUTA tax an Alabama employer could pay per employee would be $544.

New employers usually start out paying a flat SUTA tax rate for the first few years until they become experience-rated.

The following list provides a summary of the range of SUTA tax amounts across states in 2021:

  • Regular rates ranged from 0% for employers with the lowest experience rating in seven states up to 20.6% of each employee’s base wage in Arizona for employers with the highest experience ratings.
  • The new employer rate ranged from 0.55% in South Carolina to 3.69% in Pennsylvania.
  • Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee had the lowest wage bases at $7,000.
  • Washington had the highest wage base at $56,500.

To learn more about your state’s unemployment tax amounts, click here.

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Michigan, West Virginia end statewide face-covering requirements

Two states ended statewide public mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between June 18-24.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) ended most remaining statewide coronavirus restrictions, including the statewide mask mandate, on June 22. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people still have to wear masks on public transportation and at public transportation hubs (like bus stations and airports).

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) ended the statewide mask requirements for unvaccinated individuals on June 20. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people still have to wear masks on public transportation and at public transportation hubs. 

In total, 39 states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. At the time of writing, 10 states had statewide mask orders. All 10 states have Democratic governors. Nine of the 10 states exempted fully vaccinated people from most requirements.

Of the 29 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 16 have Republican governors, and 13 have Democratic governors. Twenty-six states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.



Vermont ends statewide face-covering requirement

One state ended statewide public mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between June 12-17.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) lifted all remaining coronavirus restrictions in the state, including capacity restrictions and mask requirements for unvaccinated individuals on June 14. Masks are still required in health care settings, in long-term care facilities, on public transportation, and at transportation hubs (like bus stations and airports). 

The California Department of Health also exempted fully vaccinated individuals from the statewide mask mandate starting June 15. Fully vaccinated residents still have to wear masks on public transit and in transportation hubs, in indoor childcare and K-12 school settings, in healthcare settings, and in congregate settings (including prisons and homeless shelters). The statewide mask requirement still exists for unvaccinated people in all indoor public settings and businesses. 

In total, 39 states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. At the time of writing, 12 states had statewide mask orders, including 11 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and one of the 27 states with Republican governors. Of those 12 states, 11 exempted fully vaccinated people.

Of the 27 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 15 have Republican governors and 12 have Democratic governors. Twenty-four states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.



Illinois, Kentucky end face-covering requirements

Two states ended statewide public mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between June 5-11.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) moved the state to Phase 5 of reopening June 11, ending the statewide mask mandate. The state still requires masks in schools, on public transit, in hospitals, and at congregate facilities like prisons and homeless shelters. Masks are also recommended in indoor public spaces for individuals who are not fully vaccinated. 

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) ended the statewide mask requirement, remaining social distancing requirements, and all capacity restrictions June 11. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people still have to wear masks on public transit, at schools, and in healthcare settings.

In total, 39 states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. At the time of writing, 13 states had statewide mask orders, including 11 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and two of the 27 states with Republican governors. Of those 13 states, at least 11 exempted fully vaccinated people.

Of the 26 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 14 have Republican governors and 12 have Democratic governors. Twenty-three states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.



Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina end mask requirements

Three states ended statewide public mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between May 14 and May 20.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) ended the statewide mask requirement on May 14. Masks are still required for unvaccinated visitors to nursing homes, prisons, and hospitals, and in certain school settings. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people must still comply with federal law, which requires masking on public transportation and at public transportation hubs like bus stations and airports.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) ended the statewide mask mandate on May 15. The state still requires vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks in schools and hospitals, as well as on public transportation.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) ended the statewide mask mandate for vaccinated and unvaccinated people on May 14. Masks are still required for all people, regardless of vaccination status, on public transportation and in healthcare settings.

Additionally, at least eight more states amended their existing mask orders to align with the CDC guidance issued May 13, exempting fully vaccinated individuals from most indoor mask requirements. Those states are Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Thirty-nine states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. Twenty-one states had statewide mask orders at the time of this writing, including 17 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and four out of the 27 states with Republican governors. 

Of those 21 states, six required masks for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Fifteen states exempted fully vaccinated people.

Of the 18 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 12 have Republican governors, and six have Democratic governors. Fifteen states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.



17 states have announced dates to end pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits

On May 4, 2021, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte (R) became the first governor in the U.S. to announce his state would opt out of all federal unemployment benefit programs related to the coronavirus pandemic by June 30. Gianforte said, “Incentives matter, and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good. We need to incentivize Montanans to reenter the workforce. Our return-to-work bonus and the return to pre-pandemic unemployment programs will help get more Montanans back to work.”

Since Gianforte’s announcement, at least 16 additional states have also announced plans to end enhanced federal unemployment benefits related to COVID-19. All 17 states that are ending pandemic federal unemployment benefits have Republican trifectas.

The table below summarizes when each state will end federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits:

The American Rescue Plan, signed on March 11, 2021, extended federal unemployment benefit programs related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including the federal government’s $300 per week add-on to state unemployment benefits, through September 6, 2021.

Want daily updates about changes to government policies regarding vaccine eligibility, travel restrictions, and more? Our Documenting America’s Path to Recovery newsletter delivers the latest coronavirus-related updates to our subscribers’ inboxes each weekday. Click here to subscribe.

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At least 7 states amend mask requirements to align with updated CDC guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) amended its mask guidance May 13. The new guidance says fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor public settings, regardless of the number of people gathered.  

The guidance still recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks and social distance at doctor’s offices, hospitals, and long-term care facilities like nursing homes. Masks are also recommended in congregate settings (like homeless shelters and prisons), when traveling on public transportation (like on planes and buses), and at transportation hubs like airports and bus stations.

At least 7 states amended their existing mask orders to align with CDC guidance and exempt fully vaccinated individuals from most indoor mask requirements, as of May 14 at 1:00 p.m. EST.

  1. Pennsylvania
  2. Kentucky
  3. Nevada
  4. Oregon
  5. Washington
  6. Vermont
  7. West Virginia

Ballotpedia tracked four other changes and announced changes to state mask requirements:

  1. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) fully ended the statewide mask mandate for vaccinated and unvaccinated residents on May 14. 
  2. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced May 13 he would amend the state’s mask requirements to align with CDC guidance starting May 19. 
  3. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) announced May 13 he would amend the state’s mask requirements to align with the CDC guidance but did not say when he would update the order.
  4. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said he will lift the statewide indoor mask mandate once 70% of adult residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. At the time of the announcement, that figure stood at 65%.

Thirty-nine states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. Twenty-four states had statewide mask orders at the time of this writing, including 19 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and five out of the 27 states with Republican governors. 

Of those 24 states, 17 required masks for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Seven states exempted fully vaccinated people.

Of the 15 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 11 have Republican governors, and four have Democratic governors. Twelve states have ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) have ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) has ended its mandate through court order.

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