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For the unvaccinated, the GOP changes its tune on jobless aid

In the spring, Republicans were desperate to end jobless benefits. Now, they've changed their minds — but only for the unvaccinated.

It was in the spring when many of the nation's Republican governors embraced a provocative economic idea. As regular readers may recall, after congressional Democrats approved enhanced unemployment benefits, these GOP officials decided the smart move would be to cut off the extra assistance to the jobless, in the hopes that it would force people back to work faster.

We now know, of course, that the idea was wrong, and the Republican policy didn't have the intended effect. But the larger point remained unchanged: Leading GOP officials saw unemployment aid as a problem. The sooner jobless benefits could be curtailed, the better off we'd be as able-bodied Americans returned to the workforce. Paying people not to work, Republicans argued, was counter-productive.

Recently, however, many of those same GOP officials appeared to change their minds — but only for a small part of the population.

A couple of months ago, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds — one of the Republicans who rushed to get people off of jobless aid in the spring — acted quickly to make unemployment benefits available to those who lost their jobs for refusing to get vaccinated. Axios reported this week that Iowa isn't alone.

Republican officials around the country are testing a creative mechanism to build loyalty with unvaccinated Americans while undermining Biden administration mandates: unemployment benefits.... 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 point about aid to those who quit over vaccines is of particular interest: Ordinarily, Americans who voluntarily give up their jobs aren't eligible for unemployment benefits. But thanks to Republicans in these red states, those who quit their jobs to avoid vaccines can get checks from the government anyway.

As Catherine Rampell explained, these red states are now effectively "paying people not to get vaccinated."

The larger disconnect remains jarring. In the spring, unemployment insurance was derided by Republicans for creating unhealthy disincentives: People would make irresponsible decisions, they said, affecting themselves and the larger economy, as a result of unneeded financial rewards. The goal, they argued, should be to get as many people off jobless aid as quickly as possible.

But in the fall, as some Americans began losing their jobs after choosing to go unvaccinated during a pandemic, Republicans arrived at an entirely different set of assumptions. All of a sudden, government handouts to people who aren't working are a good thing — just so long as GOP officials approve of the recipients' political agenda.

If these jobless benefits undermine the Biden administration's efforts to get Americans vaccinated and curtail the pandemic, that's also a price these Republicans are willing to pay.

It's another detail to remember as Republicans try to blame the president for the fact that the crisis is still ongoing.