Biden: Workers can’t turn down job and get benefits
President Biden announced Monday that his administration would affirm that workers cannot turn down a “suitable” job they are offered and continue to take federal unemployment benefits.
“We’re going to make it clear that anyone who is collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” Biden said in remarks on the economy from the East Room, noting there would be “a few COVID-19-related exceptions” to the guidance.
After a monthly report showed a slowdown in job growth last week, Republicans and business groups have argued that the supplemental unemployment benefits incentivized people not to work and should be done away with.
Certain workers can get a $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit through the $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package that Biden signed into law in March. The increased benefits are slated to last until September.
Critics argue the latest disappointing jobs report is evidence some aren’t returning to work because of the benefits. Others argue there is little hard evidence to suggest this is a factor. Biden administration officials have also pointed to the problem of child care as being a serious issue that is preventing some workers from going back to work.
Biden’s remarks on Monday signal the administration does not want to be perceived as providing benefits that might serve as a disincentive to work.
The president did insist there was no evidence that the expanded unemployment benefits contributed to the slowdown in job growth during the month of April.
“Americans want to work,” he said.
“No one should be allowed to game the system and we’ll insist the law is followed but let’s not take our eye off the ball,” he said. “We need to stay focused on the real problems in front of us — beating this pandemic and creating jobs.”
The Labor Department is expected to send a letter to states this week to “reaffirm that individuals receiving UI may not continue to receive benefits if they turn down a suitable job due to a general, non-specific concern about COVID-19,” the White House said in a release.
Workers are exempt from the policy if they are unable to take the job due to child care responsibilities or the worksite is not complying with federal or state health guidelines.
Biden is also directing Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to work with states to reinstate work search requirements for those receiving unemployment insurance if it is healthy and safe, the White House said.
Data released Friday showed that the U.S. economy added 266,000 jobs during the month of April, coming in far below economists’ expectations. Biden and administration officials have repeatedly characterized the data as a sign of continued progress and tried to blunt Republican attacks on Biden’s economic agenda.
“I never said, and no serious analyst ever suggested, that climbing out of the deep, deep hole our economy was in would be simple, easy, immediate or perfectly steady,” Biden said Monday.
“Some months will exceed expectations, others will fall short. The question is, what is the trend line? Are we headed in the right direction? Are we taking the right steps to keep it going? And the answer is, clearly, yes,” he added.
Biden said that his rescue package would be implemented over the course of the next year, noting that funds to state and local governments and hard-hit restaurants would be disseminated this month. The Treasury Department on Monday launched an application portal for state and local governments to apply for funds to support public service jobs. The administration is sending out the first grants to 16,000 restaurants on Monday.