At least two blue states — Connecticut and Colorado — are also offering return-to-work bonuses for residents collecting unemployment benefits.
“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
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.