The Louisiana Budget Project, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, Step Up Louisiana, and the Workplace Justice Project of the Loyola University Law Clinic sent a letter on Thursday, August 20th, urging Gov. John Bel Edwards to reinstate the suspension of work-search requirements for unemployment benefits that he wisely implemented early in the pandemic. As the letter explains, and as over 1,500 signers of a petition to cancel work search affirm, now is not the time to force unemployed people to jump through hoops in order to hold on to a vital benefit. Governor Edwards can and should re-suspend work search immediately.
You can read the letter below or click here for a PDF version.
August 20, 2020
Dear Gov. Edwards:
This letter follows up on the petition that more than 1,500 people have signed to date, urging you to cancel work-search requirements for unemployment benefits. As those petitioners expressed, now is not the time to put barriers in front of people trying to access urgently needed benefits. For reasons we outline in detail below, we request that you use your authority to cancel Louisiana’s work search requirements immediately.
Cancelling work search will help small businesses and workers
Both economists and workers credit expanded unemployment benefits with enabling workers to pay bills, and with keeping the economy running. Spending from unemployment benefits circulating in the local economy is essential not only to the workers who receive the benefit directly, but to the small businesses where those workers spend their money, and to the small business owners who use that money to meet their obligations.
As Rep. Cedric Richmond noted on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, while “economists will tell you that small businesses … are critically important to our recovery … they are also just plain important.” Small business owners depend on the community’s ability to spend money locally. When workers don’t have money to spend, small-business owners feel the economic pain along with them.
For workers who have been furloughed or laid off, access to benefits is critical. For many workers, losing the unemployment benefits that they are eligible for because of procedural hurdles would lead to hunger, homelessness, or both. Regardless of carve-outs in the policy, any step to make unemployment benefits more complicated will separate some workers from the benefits that they are owed.
We simply cannot afford policies that take money out of the pockets of unemployed workers by placing procedural barriers in front of their access to benefits.
With few jobs available, work search can’t boost employment
While work-search requirements may benefit some workers in a robust labor market, evidence suggests that work search is not effective at boosting employment in a recession. But procedural barriers like work search requirements do keep substantial numbers of workers from benefits that they would otherwise claim.
Although Louisiana’s labor market has improved since the onset of the pandemic, it is still far from back to normal. In June, for example, every sector tracked in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s “Economy at a Glance” table for Louisiana posted jobs below their totals in June 2019. Several sectors that are particularly important to Louisiana’s economy continued to reflect dramatic year-over-year losses: Mining and logging employment was down 18.1% from last June, construction employment was down 13.7%, and leisure and hospitality employment was down a staggering 23.8%. Just last week, seven prominent New Orleans hospitality industry institutions gave notice to the Workforce Commission that they are likely to lay off an additional 1,500 people over the next few months.
The jobs in the sectors that are posting the smallest year-over-year losses – trade, transportation, and utilities; financial activities; professional and business services; education and health services; and government – are likely to require specialized training, making them inappropriate and inaccessible for the workers still hardest hit by the recession.
While the work-search rules contain exemptions for people out of work for “Covid-related” reasons, LWC has offered extremely limited and contradictory guidance on what might qualify someone for such an exemption. So far, the only guidance readily accessible to claimants remains the two-and-a-half minute video posted to announce the change. LWC’s Covid-19 FAQ still states that, “[a]s a result of Governor John Bel Edwards Executive Order 2020-27, you do not need to do a work search during the Governor’s declared emergency. No action is needed on your part regarding the work search.”
This lack of guidance has left many claimants confused about whether Covid exemptions apply to them. Comments to unemployment-focused Facebook groups for Louisianans reflect many claimants’ frustrations with the work-search requirements, and with the difficulty of knowing whether or not they are complying with unemployment benefit program rules.
The Covid exemptions to work search do nothing for people who had the misfortune to lose their job just before the pandemic but face the same severely constrained labor market as everyone else.
“The work search should be cancelled and continue to be waived because it’s not healthy for the environment and it puts more tension on the fellow Americans and minorities who are already suffering.”
– Louise Francis, unemployed banquet cook from the Sheraton Hotel, Step Up Louisiana Member
Work-search requirements carry public health risks
Pushing unemployed workers back into the workforce before the pandemic is fully controlled runs counter to critical public health goals. Of the few jobs available, many require interacting with the public (grocery stores, gas stations, fast food restaurants, etc.). Yet getting the pandemic under control remains the key to getting people back to work. Until the pandemic is truly controlled, many of Louisiana’s unemployed workers will simply need to stay home — regardless of when they lost their job — for the wellbeing of Louisiana as a whole. Accessible unemployment benefits are an essential part of supporting those workers while they fulfill their civic responsibilities by complying with the best advice of public health authorities.
Forcing work search requirements on unemployed workers now, while Covid-19 continues to threaten the health of our communities and to stall our economic recovery is not the policy Louisiana needs.
“If we want to get out of this as quickly as possible, it’s critical that as many people stay home as possible. Canceling the work search will allow that to happen.”
-T. Cole Newton, owner, 12 Mile Limit and The Domino
For all of these reasons, we urge you to cancel Louisiana’s work search requirements immediately, to make sure that vital unemployment assistance is as accessible as possible for Louisianans who are out of work through no fault of their own.
We also appreciate the willingness to meet with advocates that you expressed in your August 13th press conference, and request a meeting to discuss the issues we raise in this letter.