RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Starting June 1, Virginians on unemployment will once again have to prove that they are looking for work to continue receiving benefits. It comes as some industries are struggling to recruit staff.
Gov. Ralph Northam waived work search requirements at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic as many businesses were forced to close. Now–with vaccines widely available and all capacity restrictions lifting in Virginia on May 28–the requirement is being restored in response to guidance from the federal government.
Megan Healy, Northam’s Chief Workforce Advisor, said Virginians will have to show that they are applying for at least two jobs weekly to proceed with their payments. She said those submissions will be audited to make sure people are applying for positions in line with their qualifications.
“Let’s say someone only has a high school diploma. We’re going to make sure they are not applying for a physician job,” Healy said.
People can also meet this requirement by enrolling in an education or training program. Healy said there are vouchers available to offset the cost of pursuing a new career path and, later this summer, Northam’s tuition-free community college program for those seeking high-demand skills will provide additional opportunities.
For those hoping to re-enter the workforce right away, Healy said the state has a number of helpful resources.
On June 1, Healy said the state’s 61 Career Works centers are opening for in-person appointments again, though assistance is also available online. She said staff can help people prepare for their job search and navigate wrap-around support services for things like childcare and transportation.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were well over half a million openings posted on Virginia’s job recruiting website, a record since the pandemic started, according to Healy.
It comes as some industries are having a hard time hiring workers.
In a recent survey from the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, 84 percent of restaurants said current staffing levels are lower than normal, with 42 percent saying they are more than 20 percent below normal levels.
Emmy Finch is the human resources director of the restaurant group Hospitality Family, which owns The Boathouse, Casa Del Barco and Island Shrimp Co.
“We’re probably looking at another 100 to 120 more people in order for our events to be up and running and our facilities to be full for both lunch and dinner,” Finch said.
Finch said they had some success bringing on new staff after increasing server pay to $20-$25 per hour plus tips, something she said was necessary to compete with enhanced unemployment benefits. She thinks restoring work search requirements will make a big difference moving forward.
“I think people are going to start coming back to work. I think they won’t have a choice,” Finch said.