- States suspended "work search" rules early in the Covid pandemic. The federal government allowed that flexibility to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
- However, looking for work is now a condition of receiving unemployment benefits in most states again, as the labor market improves. Each state's criteria are different.
Most states are re-imposing a requirement to look for work as a condition of getting unemployment benefits — and the holdouts may soon do the same.
So-called "work search" rules have long been a condition for the jobless to receive income support from the government. It helps fulfill the mandate that recipients be actively looking for a job.
The policy promotes a key goal of unemployment insurance — to keep people attached to the labor market, according to unemployment experts.
But all states suspended work-search criteria early in the Covid pandemic. A federal law gave them the flexibility to do so, as it became clear that job hunting risked spreading the coronavirus. It may have also been impractical, given that many businesses were shut.
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Now, states are re-imposing the rules, as the economy and labor market rebound from their pandemic depths.
"Within the past couple months, pretty much every state has brought back its work-search requirements," according to Alexa Tapia, an unemployment insurance campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project.
Only Illinois, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., haven't yet done so, according to ZipRecruiter data available through June 18.
However, New Jersey plans to return to its pre-pandemic work-search requirement on Sept. 4, when the expanded federal benefits expire in the state, according to Angela Delli-Santi, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor.
Spokespeople at the Illinois and D.C. labor bureaus couldn't be reached for comment.
The U.S. Department of Labor issued a memo to states July 1 urging them to re-instate work-search and other rules, if states deemed it safe to do so relative to Covid-19.
"I think in most states, people just need to be polishing up their skills — getting their resume out, working on interview skills," said Michele Evermore, a senior policy advisor for unemployment insurance at the U.S. Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration. "A lot of people are rusty.
"I personally think it's participant-friendly at this point to turn on some version of work search."
However, it's unclear if the highly contagious delta variant, which has caused a surge in U.S. Covid cases in recent weeks, may lead some states to reconsider or loosen their rules.
A range of rules
One challenge for workers: There's not a national set of criteria to fulfill weekly work-search obligations. They vary by area, including in D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"With a 53-state system, every state has different rules," Evermore said.
In New Jersey, for example, claimants will have to complete at least one work-search activity per week to qualify for unemployment benefits. That may include applying for a position in person, online or over the phone, and signing up with online job-search companies, and going to interviews, for example, Delli-Santi said.
Some states set more flexible requirements than others, according to experts.
Some, like Minnesota, don't require a certain number of job-seeking activities per week, instead asking for a good-faith effort, Tapia said. Others, like Florida and Nebraska, ask for a higher quantity, potentially five or more activities per week.
Others may also ask for more detail, such as contact information from a certain number of prospective employers, so they can verify an individual applied for a job, Tapia said.
Workers trying to determine their state's work-search requirements can consult the respective workforce agency's webpage, which typically outlines specific information, Evermore said.