The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the country’s economy. But with more states reopening and federal assistance running out, Oklahoma is looking ahead to a brighter season of welcoming residents back to work. 

To incentivize residents to return to work, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt announced the state’s Back to Work Initiative Program on May 17. The program is now open to applicants and includes a $1,200 back to work payment after the claimant’s sixth week of employment is completed.

Gov. Stitt said since the state’s reopening in June 2020, “the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma businesses today is not reopening, it’s finding employees.” 

He also signed a series of executive orders ending a number of federal unemployment programs on June 26, including the  Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) on June 26th

“Every employer I speak with, inside or outside of the state, is struggling to recruit workers,” Chad Warmington, president and CEO of The State Chamber said in a press release.

“While federal programs provided needed benefits at the height of the pandemic when businesses were forced to shutter, these benefits have now incentivized workers to remain on unemployment after we have safely reopened our economy. Employers are offering competitive wages with generous benefits packages and workers are still refusing to return to work. It was time to stop disincentivizing hope and opportunity for Oklahomans. Gov. Stitt recognizes there is no government program that can provide the same potential for individual economic freedom as a fully functioning private business can.”

This challenge is not unique to Oklahoma. Other business owners across the U.S. are experiencing a labor shortage and are trying to find creative avenues to bring workers back into the workforce. Many Oklahoman employers support Gov. Stitt’s new program. 

Dani Shields, Director of Human Resources for Georg Fischer Central Plastics, LLC, said they stayed open and kept their employees safe, but as businesses began to reopen, their demand for their products skyrocketed and they didn’t have the ability to add to their workforce. Shields said “these are not minimum wage jobs and offer career growth, excellent benefits and a safe and stable workplace.” 

“Today’s action by Gov. Kevin Stitt is a step in removing one of the barriers for Oklahoma to thrive,” he said during a press conference on May 17.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • The first 20,000 Oklahoma applicants who filed an unemployment claim for one of the first two weeks of May 2-15. 
  • You accept a job offer in Oklahoma and work at least 32 hours per week (full time) for at least six consecutive weeks for the same employer between May 17, 2021–Sept. 4, 2021. The employer is required to pay into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund or have a FEIN for your application to qualify.
  • You must provide a valid paycheck stub for proof of full-time employment between May 17, 2021 – Sept. 4, 2021.
  • Beginning June 28, applicants can begin uploading their information along with the six weeks of pay stubs. Payments will go out the second week of July.     

Applicants can apply online to the Back to Work Incentive on the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission’s website

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