They may not be terminating pandemic unemployment benefits like their GOP peers, but Democratic governors are also prodding Americans to go back to work amid a surging number of job openings. And so is President Joe Biden.
More than a dozen Democrat-led states have reinstituted work search requirements, many of them in the past few weeks, according to data compiled by ZipRecruiter, a job posting site. And they are telling the jobless that they risk losing their benefits if they don’t comply or accept suitable offers.
At least two blue states – Connecticut and Colorado – are also offering return-to-work bonuses for residents collecting unemployment benefits.
Though he has said he doesn’t think the pandemic benefits are keeping people at home, Biden stressed last week that the controversial $300 weekly federal enhancement won’t be extended again.
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“And [the] temporary boost in unemployment benefits that ended – that we enacted, I should say – helped people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and who still may be in the process of getting vaccinated. But it’s going to expire in 90 days. That makes sense, it expires in 90 days,” Biden said Friday.
Millions of job openings
A debate is now raging across the land over how best to find workers to fill open positions, which is key to the economic recovery. A record 9.3 million jobs were available in April, according to the most recent federal data.
Republican officials are opting to use the stick approach. At least 25 GOP-led states are ending early the $300 federal weekly supplement to jobless benefits, citing widespread workforce shortages. Many are also terminating two other pandemic programs that provide payments to independent contractors, the self-employed, freelancers, certain people affected by the coronavirus and those who have run out of regular state benefits.
These enhanced benefits will stop as soon as this weekend in some states, instead of in early September, as approved in the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion relief package that Biden signed into law in March. Republican governors argue that the generous benefits are keeping workers on the sidelines.
Blue states, however, are loath to take this step. Instead, they are requiring out-of-work residents to resume searching for jobs – warning that if claimants turn down suitable offers, they could lose their jobless benefits.
Most states had waived this mandate at the start of the pandemic to keep people at home. But now, more than 40 states, both red and blue, are requiring jobless residents to look for work or have announced plans to do so soon, according to ZipRecruiter. Only a handful of mostly blue states have yet to bring back the requirement.
Maine, for instance, reinstated its traditional work search requirements as of May 23.
“Thousands of Maine people lost their jobs during the pandemic, through no fault of their own. Now it is our goal to get them back to work,” said Laura Fortman, the state’s labor commissioner. “With vaccines more widely available, and with businesses reopened now and in need of help – especially with the busy tourism season approaching – we want people to rejoin the workforce, earn a living and aid in our state’s economic recovery.”
Colorado and Connecticut are also providing an extra incentive for those collecting jobless benefits to return to work. The former is offering a bonus of up to $1,600 for those who maintain employment for up to eight weeks, while the latter is giving a $1,000 payment to 10,000 long-term unemployed residents who obtain jobs.
Several Republican-led states, including Montana and Arizona, are also offering return-to-work bonuses, but in conjunction with the early end of pandemic benefits.
Some consumer advocates, however, say these bonuses and work search requirements don’t address the main reasons why Americans aren’t returning to employment. Some people are still struggling with child care, while others need help with their job searches.
“Many of the workers who are unemployed now are the longest-term unemployed. We have to realize it’s not as simple for everyone to get back to work,” said Alexa Tapia, unemployment insurance campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, noting that people of color face particular challenges.
To help laid-off residents who might still need extra assistance, Oregon is phasing in its work search requirement and coupling it with individual meetings with WorkSource Oregon staffers for some claimants.
While the state has a record number of job openings, the availability of child care remains significantly below where it was prior to the pandemic. Also, two-thirds of Oregon schools continue to have either fully or partially remote schedules.
“We are encouraging and helping those who want to return to work to do so without removing the safety net needed by others,” David Gerstenfeld, acting director of the Oregon Employment Department, said last month on a phone call with reporters.