Pennsylvania to resume work-search rule for jobless benefits

A customer walks out of a U.S. Post Office branch and under a banner advertising a job opening

In this photo taken Thursday, June 4, 2020, a customer walks out of a U.S. Post Office branch and under a banner advertising a job opening, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP Photo)

Pennsylvania will resume work search requirements in July for hundreds of thousands of people receiving unemployment compensation, a top Wolf administration official said Monday.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s acting labor and industry secretary, Jennifer Berrier, told a state House of Representatives committee hearing the requirement will resume July 18, meaning people claiming jobless benefits will have to satisfy the requirements during the previous week.

She also said a work registration requirement will resume in September. The requirements have been waived by Wolf under his emergency disaster authority invoked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republicans in Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled Legislature have pushed Wolf to reinstate the requirements, and Rep. Torrin Ecker, R-Cumberland, urged Berrier to resume the work-search requirement earlier than July.

Employers in Pennsylvania and across the country say they are struggling to find enough workers and put the blame on jobless benefits that are padded with a $300-a-week federal pandemic benefit.

In a letter signed by dozens of local chambers, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry urged lawmakers to swiftly approve legislation that would make the requirement take effect as early as June 8.

Sam Denisco, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, said businesses are struggling to fully reopen as the last of the state’s pandemic restrictions are expiring as the rate of new infections drops and more people are vaccinated. But they are having to limit their offerings without enough people to fill shifts, he said.

In at least a dozen Republican-led states, governors are rejecting the $300-a-week in federal aid. Meanwhile, several states are offering or considering offering cash incentives to get people back into the workforce.

Wolf’s office said it has not found that the extra cash benefit or the suspension of the work-search requirement to be primary factors in a “perceived labor shortage.”

Certain industries may have difficulty hiring workers because, for instance, some parents have children learning at home or some people are waiting for a second vaccine dose before returning to work, his office has said. Others may have decided during the pandemic to pursue a career change, it said.

Pennsylvania’s labor force and payrolls both hit record highs just before the pandemic, but, in April, the labor force was still down 200,000 while payrolls were down by about 400,000, according to state data.

Some 750,000 people in Pennsylvania receiving jobless benefits either through a state or federal program were also receiving the extra $300 a week, according to the Department of Labor and Industry from mid-May.

The requirement will affect all unemployment programs, including unemployment compensation and its extension, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, the department said.

The work-search requirement means people receiving unemployment benefits must apply for two jobs and complete one work-search activity from an approved list of seven options each week, such as attending a job fair, take a pre-employment test or post a resume or search for jobs in the state’s PA CareerLink system.

Even with the suspension of work search, Pennsylvanians who turn down a suitable job offer or recall to work are not eligible for unemployment benefits, the Wolf administration said.

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