/Biden moves to reinstate a pre-pandemic unemployment policy

Biden moves to reinstate a pre-pandemic unemployment policy

  • Biden is encouraging states to reinstate job-seeking requirements for people to stay on unemployment.
  • “Anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” he said.
  • It comes as the GOP ramps up criticism that unemployment aid is dissuading people from seeking out jobs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden announced in a speech on Monday that Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits must either take a job that is “suitable” or lose their benefits, encouraging states to reinstate a pre-pandemic policy of requiring people to search for work.

“We’re going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” Biden said at the White House.

According to a White House fact sheet released after the speech, the Department of Labor will “reaffirm longstanding UI [unemployment insurance] requirements” to ensure that states, workers, and employers understand the rules regarding unemployment benefits.

The Department of Labor will also issue a letter to states reaffirming that individuals receiving benefits cannot turn down a suitable job to continue receiving their benefits.

Experts say these job-seeking guidelines were in place before the pandemic, and states scrapped them last year as the economy crashed, causing a surge in unemployment. While the economic situation is improving, those experts say factors like lack of childcare or school closures are still keeping some people out of the workforce.

“On the whole, the Biden Administration is moving to return UI slowly like the rest of the economy to its pre-UI rules,” Andrew Stettner, an unemployment expert at the Century Foundation, said in emailed comments to Insider.  “Advocates are concerned that policy makers ensure that no workers are cut of off benefits because they cannot find affordable child care, and the reinstatement of work search requirements raises the stakes for this type of protections.”

This announcement follows a jobs report last week that fell significantly short of expectations, with Republican lawmakers casting the blame on too-generous unemployment benefits disincentivizing Americans from returning to work.

Although Biden said in his speech that “we don’t see much evidence” of benefits hurting job growth, his remarks suggest he is listening to GOP criticism on the issue.

Since the start of the pandemic, Republicans and businesspeople have criticized expanded unemployment insurance — inserted into March 2020’s CARES Act by Democrats in the House — as too generous. Although the $600 federal unemployment addition to weekly benefits expired last year, Congress reinstated it at $300 per week in late December, which Biden extended through September 6 as part of the stimulus law in March.

The US Chamber of Commerce called to end the benefits in the wake of the April jobs numbers, but Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said on Twitter that “workers desperately need” the benefits. 

While states waived their unemployment benefits work requirements at the start of the pandemic, 39 of them have already started, or are planning to, reimpose them. 

Biden said: “We’ll insist that the law is followed with respect to benefits, but we’re not going to turn our backs on our fellow Americans.”

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