Collecting unemployment? Most states re-impose work search rules

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Most states are re-introducing job search as a condition for receiving unemployment benefits – and the holdouts could soon do the same.

So-called “job search” rules have long been a condition for unemployed people to receive income subsidies from the state. It helps to fulfill the mandate that the recipients are actively looking for a job.

Politics promotes an important goal of unemployment insurance – binding people to the labor market, according to unemployment experts.

But all states suspended job search criteria at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Federal law gave them the flexibility to do so once it became clear that job hunting was putting the spread of the coronavirus at risk. It might also have been inconvenient as many stores were closed.

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Now states are re-enforcing the rules as the economy and labor market recover from their pandemic lows.

“In the past few months, pretty much every state has rolled back its job search requirements,” said Alexa Tapia, an unemployment insurance campaign coordinator for the National Employment Law Project.

Only Illinois, New Jersey and Washington, DC haven’t done this yet, according to ZipRecruiter data available as of June 18.

However, New Jersey plans to return to its pre-pandemic job search on Sept. 4, when the state’s expanded federal benefits expire, according to Angela Delli-Santi, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor.

Illinois and DC labor office spokespersons were unavailable for comment.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a memo to states on July 1 urging them to reintroduce job search and other rules if states deem it safe to do so with regard to Covid-19.

“I think most states just need to polish up their skills – pull out their résumés, work on interviews,” said Michele Evermore, a senior unemployment insurance policy advisor with the Department of Labor’s Employment and Education Administration. “Lots of people are rusty.

“I personally think that at this point it is participant-friendly to activate a version of the job search.”

However, it is unclear whether the highly contagious Delta variant, which has led to a surge in US Covid cases in recent weeks, could cause some states to reconsider or relax their rules.

A series of rules

A challenge for employees: there is no national catalog of criteria for fulfilling the weekly job search. They vary by area, including DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

“In a 53-state system, each state has different rules,” said Evermore.

For example, in New Jersey, applicants must conduct at least one job search per week to be eligible for unemployment benefit. This may include applying in person, online, or by phone, signing up with online job search companies, and going for interviews, for example, said Delli-Santi.

According to experts, some states have more flexible requirements than others.

Some, like Minnesota, don’t require a set number of job-finding activities per week but instead ask for an honest effort, Tapia said. Others, like Florida and Nebraska, require more, possibly five or more, activities per week.

Others may also ask for more details, such as contact information from a certain number of potential employers so they can verify an individual who has applied for a job, Tapia said.

Workers trying to determine their state’s job search requirements can check their employment agency’s website, which usually has specific information, Evermore said.

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