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Work search requirement for Vermont unemployment claimants reinstated

Updated: May. 9, 2021 at 4:09 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - With the work search requirement reinstated on Sunday, Vermonters on unemployment may need to start applying to jobs.

The requirement was waived back in March 2020 because of the pandemic, but as of May 9, claimants will now have to apply for three jobs a week to continue receiving benefits, and they cannot refuse suitable work.

Vermont Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington says claimants will need to put in applications or make a sincere request for work over the phone or in person.

“Like a lot of what we’ve done during Vermont’s COVID response, a lot of it is based on the honor system,” he said. “We certainly will step in and do have an obligation to step in if we feel like someone is intentionally misrepresenting information or trying to defraud the system.”

There are COVID-specific exemptions for self-employed, people who must stay at home due to COVID-19, and parents with kids attending remote classes.

Harrington says those out of work for a longer period of time statistically find it harder to return to work. But there is also concern that some Vermonters may exhaust their benefits and no longer qualify to receive them again.

“One of the underlying concerns is also making sure these people are building up that eligibility that they need to have should they be dislocated in the future as well,” he said.

In order to re-qualify, you may have to return to work. For those making use of the federal benefit extension, the last day for those is Sept. 6. At that time, you will drop off benefits.

The Department of Labor does not have an estimate on how many people will return to work in the coming months, but with 20,000 receiving unemployment, and an additional 10,000 filing in the PUA program, the number could be significant.

“As we move back to 100 percent reopening with minimal restrictions, those people who are able to return to work should have no problem finding a place in the workforce,” Harrington said.

The reinstatement comes at a time when many businesses are desperate to hire.

The Skirack and Patagonia in Burlington, as well as Vermont Trailwear in Waterbury, have a number of positions open right now they’ve historically had no problem filling.

“We’ve been going pretty hard at this since the beginning of the year and we just have not had people applying,” said Kimberly Steinfeld, the director of human resources for the three stores.

The Skirack, Patagonia and Vermont Trailwear are all managed by the same staff.

Though there is some concern about an influx of applicants applying just to meet the requirement, Steinfeld is optimistic about the pool widening.

“The unemployment situation with the extended benefits has been a challenge since the very start of COVID,” Steinfeld said. “And the fact that it has continued I think has further challenged us in our ability to get viable candidates in because right now they can make more money sitting at home.”

The Department of Labor will hold virtual town halls to help unemployment recipients navigate the work search requirement. Those are set to begin Monday.

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