Virginia politicians are calling on Governor Ralph Northam to take steps to make sure unemployment benefits aren’t preventing potential employees from returning to work. Senate Republicans want to use American Recovery Plan funds to create “Back-to-Work” bonuses to incentivize current unemployment recipients to re-enter the workforce. Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Virginia-02) is calling for better enforcement of unemployment benefit eligibility rules.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) said in a press release Tuesday, “With so many Virginia businesses experiencing workforce shortages and ‘Help Wanted’ signs seemingly everywhere, we need to replace supplemental federal unemployment payments with ‘back-to-work’ bonuses now.”
Norment’s plan would offer recipients of supplemental federal unemployment benefits a one-time payment of $1,500 after they return to work and stay employed for six weeks.
Norment called for Governor Ralph Northam to announce a special session to allocate new funds from the American Rescue Plan.
“Other states have already begun redirecting the funds they’re receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act to create these bonuses. Virginia needs to do the same as soon as possible, so we won’t be left behind in the effort to reinvigorate the economy,” Norment said.
Republicans across the country have expressed concern that the extra pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits are disincentivizing people from returning to work. Originally created by the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan extended the extra benefits to last until September 4, 2021.
However, beginning the week of May 30 through June 5, Virginians applying for all unemployment benefits will be required to actively apply for at least two jobs per week and report the details of the job search to the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), according to the VEC.
“Customers are normally required to actively look for work while collecting unemployment benefits,” Virginia Employment Commission Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess said in an April VEC press release.. “With increased vaccination access, first in the nation workplace safety regulations, and a robust demand for workers from businesses, Virginia will resume collecting and reviewing work search activity of customers in the near future.”
Also on Tuesday, Luria published a letter to Northam calling for stronger enforcement of unemployment benefits rules, making sure that people who turn down job offers do not continue receiving unemployment benefits.
“While I appreciate that your administration recently devoted $20 million to process outstanding unemployment claims for struggling individuals, we also need to more effectively enforce existing regulations around unemployment because expediting adjudication will not fully address the concerns of our small businesses,” she wrote.
“The Hampton Roads hospitality industry is an economic engine for our region and a crucial driver for the Commonwealth’s tourism economy,” she wrote. “I have repeatedly heard from small business owners that they are unable to fill vacant positions. As we move into the summer season, we must help those who need it while ensuring that no one passes up an opportunity to take a job.”
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