The COVID-19 vaccine has been developed and distributed, leaving us inches away from the end of the pandemic. Just two things stand in the way of returning us to the way we were - workforce and child care.
When Gov. Kevin Stitt announced an end to federal supplemental unemployment benefits and a bonus for returning to work, there was no louder cheerleader than The State Chamber. Every single employer I talked to brough up the same subject with me - they ad jobs and no workers. Job searches went up and jobless claims went down.
For working parents, a job without child care doesn't work. Fortunately for us, Oklahoma has a plan for that, and other states are paying attention. The state is offering 60 days of subsidized child care to Oklahomans searching for a job. There is no financial eligibility requirement, one parent can be employed while the other is looking for a job and there is an opportunity for extension beyond the 60 days. These benefits can continue after the parent becomes employed.
My colleagues in other states remind me of how fortunate Oklahoma was in weathering the effects of the COVID beast. We opened quickly and safely, innovating and adapting to the changes. For many of them, life is still on lockdown. It isn't just what we did that impresses them. It is how we did it.
We didn't let fear of the unknown control our every move. And despite the financial strain of the last year, state revenue didn't drop, but instead it skyrocketed, the opposite of what happened in other states. The result allowed for less restrictions on business, a fully funded budget for our right-sized government, a record appropriation to the state's savings account and to top it off, tax relief for businesses and individuals, making Oklahoma more competitive and attractive nationwide.
If we really want neighboring states to continue taking notice, we've got to maintain the innovative thinking that came out of the pandemic. Stopping the supplemental federal benefits later this month is a much-needed solutions for employers and workers because there is no government benefit that provides the same hope and opportunity that a job can.
NOTE: This article was first published in The Journal Record on June 4, 2021.