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'We just can’t do this anymore': Small business owners say federal unemployment handouts are crippling them

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Small businesses around the country are reportedly short-staffed as people are paid generously not to work

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Small businesses across the country have reportedly fallen on hard times in recent months, but not for lack of business. Rather, they suggest that pandemic-related government handouts are keeping much-needed workers out of the labor force.

Business owners from Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and North Carolina told the Dispatch recently that pandemic-enhanced unemployment benefits are stymieing their hiring efforts. It seems, they argued, that people would rather collect money from the government while they can instead of working in lower-wage industries such as the restaurant business.

"I've been in business for 33 years ... this is the absolute worst it's ever been," Bill Anderson, who owns Dale's Diner in Waterville, Ohio, told the news outlet. He added that it's primarily back-of-the-house employees such as dishwashers, managers, cooks that he needs.

"Usually, we'll put ads in in different locations to get people and we'll get anywhere from 6 to 12 applications in the first week or whatever and we'll get to take our pick — we'll get to pick the best of that bunch. Within the last couple of months, we don't even get a call — we don't get anything," he added.

Unable to keep up with generous unemployment benefits, Anderson closed his restaurant earlier this month. A line cook at his restaurant typically earns wages of $11 an hour, which amounts to roughly $21,000 a year for a full-time worker, he said.

But current unemployment benefits — which include $300 weekly federal payments often stacked onto similar payments made by state governments — pay much more. The Dispatch reported that an unemployed worker in Ohio could easily make $33,000 or more to stay home.

Last month, federal benefits unemployment benefits were extended to run through September as a part of the Biden administration's $2.25 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which means that things won't be changing anytime soon, even as the country begins to open up again.

"We just can't do this anymore," Anderson told the outlet.

His sentiment was shared by Kevin Rudzki, owner of Juana's Pagodas, a popular beachfront restaurant in Florida panhandle currently short-staffed during the busy spring and summer season. Rudzki said his restaurant has two kitchens but, at the moment, there are only enough workers to operate one of them.

"We're not even seeing applications, we're not even seeing people trying, except ones that are playing the game of filling out the paperwork, so that they can say they tried," he said.

"Normally, I have people lined up to work. I have never advertised for a job — ever. People just show up," he continued. "My competitors are running ads on radio stations, Facebook, etcetera — the same thing. There's no one."

Across the inlet, Paul Ruiz, owner of Where Y'at Seafood, is dealing with the same problem. He closed his restaurant on Tuesdays to give his staff a break, but that hasn't fixed the problem. Even now, he is short a line cook or two.

"You can't incentivize people not to work," argued Ruiz, a longtime Air Force veteran. "You need to have incentives to get people to work, not to stay home. You've got the hard workers who want to have a job, but the others need that motivation."

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