If you’re getting unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania, there’s been an important change you need to know: You will now have to show that you’re looking for work in order to continue receiving payments.
Known as a “work search requirement,” that requisite — which had been suspended during the pandemic — resumed this week. Starting on Sunday, July 18, should the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry ask, you will need to show that you are actively looking for work, and track your job search in order to prove it.
So what exactly are the work search requirements, and how do you keep track of them? Here is what you need to know:
What has changed?
Before the pandemic, to get unemployment compensation, you were required to look for work and apply to jobs to continue receiving payments. But during the pandemic, that requirement was temporarily suspended.
Now, to continue receiving payments, most people have to apply for two jobs and complete a “work search activity” — like attending a job fair or posting your resumé to a recruiting website — every week, as well as keep a record of those applications and activities.
If you work part time and receive a reduced unemployment payment for a given week, you only have to file one job application.
You may also be exempt from the work search requirement if you:
Receive work through a union hiring hall.
Are on a Shared Work plan through your employer.
Are in Trade Act training.
Have a written recall date from your employer.
Attend a Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments session for the week.
What programs are affected?
The change applies to you if you are “receiving benefits through any unemployment program in Pennsylvania,” according to a recent letter from Labor & Industry. That includes Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
“How does a business owner apply for two jobs?” Legal Aid of Southeastern PA attorney Deborah Steeves told Spotlight PA. “Are they really thinking they need to put in an application for McDonald’s?”
When do the changes take effect?
The work search requirements restarted July 12, meaning that when you file an unemployment claim on Sunday, July 18, you will need to certify that you have applied for two jobs and completed one work search activity for the week.
You will also need to be able to prove your job search, and maintain records of that search for two years from the date of your claim. If you can’t prove that you completed the work search requirement for a particular week, L&I may deny your benefits, or require you to pay back the benefits you may have received.
What are the work search activities requirements for unemployment in Pa.?
Work search activities, according to the L&I, include:
Attending a job fair.
Searching for jobs or posting your resumé on the PA CareerLink website or other online services.
Taking a civil service or other preemployment test.
Contacting colleagues, former coworkers, and “other individuals” to let them know you are available for work.
Using an employment agency, registry, or school placement service to look for work.
Also, while you can apply to any job you are capable of performing, you are also allowed to limit your applications to jobs that offer wages that are similar to what you were making before you began collecting unemployment benefits, as well as jobs that are within a 45-minute drive if there is no telework option available.
If that sounds complicated, don’t worry. L&I’s Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Handbook has a chart (it’s on page 11 of the online handbook) to help you keep track.
How can I prove my job search?
It’s a good idea to fill out and keep a copy of its UC-304 form, or “Work Search Record” to document your job applications and interviews, as well as the work search activities. But you don’t have to use the L&I form to keep track, so long as you keep a record that includes the same information required by that document.
Don’t send your work search to L&I unless it asks for it.
What is the work registration requirement?
Work registration is different from the work search requirement. Essentially, it requires you to register on PA CareerLink within 30 days of filing an unemployment claim in order to help you look for jobs.
L&I has not yet announced when that obligation will restart but encourages you to sign up anyway (and signing up counts as one work search activity for one week).
Why is this happening now?
L&I announced the return of work search requirements in May, saying that “workers can more safely return to the workplace” as vaccinations in the state rise and the coronavirus case count continues to fall.
Also in May, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was about 6.9%, Spotlight PA reports. That month, the American economy added more than 500,000 jobs, but thousands remained unfilled in the state. And dozens of county chambers of commerce signed a letter asking officials to reinstate the requirement.
But because of a glitchy rollout of the state’s new unemployment benefits system in June, some experts have said that the work search requirement could make navigating the system more difficult. Melissa Evans, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services in Pittsburgh, told Spotlight PA that the change is “premature” while Pennsylvanians continue to have issues receiving their benefits.
“I have lots of clients who are six, seven months out from a date of termination, who are still waiting for a notice of termination as to whether or not they will be receiving unemployment compensation benefits,” Evans said.
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