More and more states are eliminating the additional $ 300 a week in unemployment benefits. What you should know about your rights
Protesters take part in a protest asking senators to support the continuation of unemployment benefits on July 16, 2020 in Miami Springs, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
As Covid-19 restrictions on businesses big and small relax, jobs are returning.
For people who are still unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits, this could complicate navigating the rules associated with these weekly checks.
The latest data suggest a recovery in employment. The first unemployment claims last week were 444,000, the lowest level since March 14, 2020, the Ministry of Labor said on Thursday.
Signs of recovery are indications that the $ 300 in unemployment benefit set up by Congress should continue through September.
Many states – currently around 21 – have chosen to take advantage of these additional benefits because they fear that people will not have an incentive to return to work.
President Joe Biden addressed the problem earlier this month by stepping up efforts to get people back to work.
This included funding for state and local governments, restaurants and childcare that could help workers return.
Employers can also bring workers back part-time without having to give up their unemployment benefit.
However, there was also one caveat to the president’s steps.
“Anyone who accumulates unemployment and offers a suitable job must either accept the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” said Biden.
The utterances came as the debate over whether people were to avoid work altogether because of the enhanced benefits they could get while staying at home grew heated.
However, Biden claimed that there are still 8 million fewer jobs than before Covid.
For the unemployed at all times, the struggle has always been to find a new opportunity that fits right.
Security and other concerns could now make this search difficult.
And yet, when it comes to how much margin people have to wait to continue receiving unemployment benefits, experts generally agree that the answer is not much.
“You have to make a serious effort to stay in the job market,” said Victorine Froehlich, an attorney who trained volunteers for the New York State Bar Association’s pro bono unemployment initiative.
“This is not a welfare program. It is for those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” she said.
However, you still have the right to refuse work in certain situations.
In general, if a job isn’t suitable, you have the right not to accept the job, according to Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive, impartial think tank.
A man shops on 5th Avenue in New York during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on February 17, 2021.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
This is especially true for precautionary measures related to Covid-19. For example, if your jurisdiction or state requires retail customer masking but the store you work in doesn’t enforce those rules, you can say you don’t want to go back to work, Stettner said.
Even if you lose your government benefits because you couldn’t go to work during Covid-19, you can apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, he said.
According to PUehlich, the PUA program may allow you to get unemployment insurance if certain childcare issues prevent you from returning to work.
However, it can be difficult to prove that a job is not right for you, even during Covid-19.
“The basic rule is: If you are offered a suitable job, you cannot refuse this job and stay on unemployment benefits,” said Stettner.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to prove that you have declined to work on health grounds, especially as the rules for wearing masks and other precautions change from day to day.
“What you will be looking at are the rules in force when you actually turned down this offer,” said Stettner.
The bottom line is you have to have a specific reason to turn down a job, not just a general feeling, he said. This can include if you are undergoing cancer treatment or if your employer does not take obvious precautions.
But if you have concerns about working in a small space but your state allows you to go back, you have to go back, he said.
In addition, you need to prove that you tried to communicate with your employer and took all possible steps to protect your workplace, Froehlich said.
Note that there are also limits when you receive a new job offer. For example, if it commutes within an hour by car or public transport, or within 10% of your previous wage, it would be inappropriate not to take the offer, Froehlich said.
Over time, unemployed workers are expected to broaden their search beyond the industry and the positions in which they previously worked, she said.
If you are receiving unemployment benefits, you will need to show that you are still looking for work.
The unemployment system generally requires you to complete a questionnaire when you apply for benefits for the first time, and each subsequent week of your search efforts.
“When you become unemployed, you generally need to report your job search activity,” said Edgar Ndjatou, executive director of Workplace Fairness, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about labor rights law.
To prove you’re looking, you may need to list job contacts and employers you’ve submitted applications to. You may also need to participate in certain job search activities.
“If you don’t take part, you can lose your benefits for at least this week,” said Stettner.
Admittedly, this can be challenging for some workers in the face of an uneven recovery, as some industries are returning faster than others.
“Part of it is just a process,” said Stettner. “You see a shortage of jobs in certain sectors that have certain barriers.”
On April 15, 2021, people line up in front of a newly opened career center for personal appointments in Louisville, Kentucky.
Amira Karaoud | Reuters
Those conditions should relax as we near fall, he said, as the children go back to school and people get used to new guidelines, which will ultimately make it easier to get back to work.
“It’s like an overcrowded bus at the airport,” said Stettner. “Everyone has their luggage, their social baggage or their childcare luggage. You have to sort all this out before you get on the bus.”
If you are still unemployed, don’t get discouraged and start your search again if you have to.
Also, keep in mind that there are resources out there that can help like grocery stamps and pantries when you can’t find work and have trouble accessing unemployment benefits, Stettner said.
“Don’t be ashamed of needing help because it’s not your fault,” said Stettner. “It’s about what’s going on in the economy.”