Nov 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

GOP courts anti-vaxxers with jobless aid

Illustration of a collection of checks with the shadow of a hand with a pen looming over one of them
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republican officials around the country are testing a creative mechanism to build loyalty with unvaccinated Americans while undermining Biden administration mandates: unemployment benefits.

Driving the news: Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have changed their unemployment insurance rules to allow workers who are fired or quit over vaccine mandates to receive benefits.

The big picture: Extending unemployment benefits to the unvaccinated is just the latest in a series of proposals aligning the GOP with people who won't get a COVID shot.

  • Republicans see a prime opportunity to rally their base ahead of the midterms. No matter how successful their individual efforts, the campaign is a powerful messaging weapon.

Details: Nine GOP-controlled states have passed laws requiring exemptions for the Biden administration's vaccine mandate, or banning private companies from requiring vaccination altogether, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

  • Several states have made it as easy as possible for workers to claim exemptions, allowing them to opt-out on philosophical grounds or requiring businesses to accept all requests for religious or medical exemptions without proof.
  • Legal uncertainty created by a wide variety of new vaccine exemptions in Florida — including for past COVID-19 infections and "anticipated future pregnancy" — prompted Disney World to suspend its vaccine mandate on Tuesday.

In Congress, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) is leading a formal challenge against the federal vaccine mandate using the Congressional Review Act, the official process for Congress to eliminate an executive branch rule.

  • The resolution is "guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor," according to Braun's office, which could come as early as December.
  • At least 20 bills have been introduced to chip away at Biden's mandates.

The backdrop: On Sept. 8, President Biden announced a new rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to implement vaccine mandates, affecting roughly 80 million private-sector workers, as well as millions of federal workers and contractors.

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