COVID-19

Some unemployed workers must prove they’re looking for jobs to get benefits

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 22, 2020
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
COVID-19

Some unemployed workers must prove they’re looking for jobs to get benefits

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 22, 2020
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Millions of Americans on unemployment are staring down the edge of a cliff, with the $600 a week federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance set to wind down at the end of the month in the absence of congressional action. On top of that, some states are now making it harder to qualify for unemployment benefits by reinstituting a requirement that applicants prove they’re looking for other jobs in order to collect.

Garrett Honey was furloughed from his job as a test engineer for a casino software company in Denver when lockdowns started in March. He’d been collecting unemployment and waiting on his company to call him back, when a week ago he got a letter from the Colorado unemployment agency.

“And all it says is, hey, you have to find a new job. You have to start looking for one, otherwise you won’t get unemployment,” he said.

To continue to receive benefits, he’d have to complete five work-search activities each week: applying for jobs, going to interviews and accepting a job if it were offered.

That put him in a tough spot. Job openings in his field are really hard to come by with the pandemic keeping most casinos closed or at low capacity, and he’d hoped to keep his old job.

“That caused a lot of panic last week,” he said.

Work search requirements were suspended by most states during the initial weeks of the crisis, but Colorado, along with Nebraska, Arkansas and Missouri, have reinstated them in recent weeks.

“You don’t want to discourage people from working if jobs are available,” said Angela Rachidi, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In normal times, she said, work search requirements are intended to motivate unemployed people to rejoin the labor market rather than remain on government assistance.

In the early days of the pandemic, people were supposed to stay home, not be out looking for jobs, so it made sense to do away with the requirement.

“But now we’re in this kind of gray area of recovery,” said Chris O’Leary, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. While the most stringent lockdowns have eased and some sectors of the economy have reopened, we’re not back to normal, he said.

“It’s kind of on again, off again — yeah, we’re going to have to return to work. Oh, wait a minute — the virus is spreading. Maybe we can’t,” he said.

There’s still enormous uncertainty in many industries, like Garrett Honey’s. And while the states that have reimposed job search requirements are not hot spots right now, the last months have taught us how quickly things can go bad with a virus that is spreading out of control.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The latest: President Donald Trump signed an executive action directing $400 extra a week in unemployment benefits. But will that aid actually reach people? It’s still unclear. Trump directed federal agencies to send $300 dollars in weekly aid, taken from the federal disaster relief fund, and called on states to provide an additional $100. But states’ budgets are stretched thin as it is.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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