Burns votes to reinstate work-search requirements for unemployment

Legislation would help businesses find employees

EBENSBURG, May 25 – After listening to the frustration of business owners and their inability to find workers, state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, today voted to support legislation to reinstate work search requirements for people on unemployment.

The work-search requirements were waived during the worst of the pandemic as many employers braced for coming economic downturn. Pennsylvania's labor force and payrolls both hit record highs just before the pandemic. By March 2021, however, the labor force was still down 200,000 people and payrolls were down by about 400,000 workers, according to state figures.

Burns noted employers across the region have cut their hours of operation because they are having trouble finding workers, and that they often blame the additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits during the pandemic – along with the lack of a work-search requirement – as the culprits.

Under state law, unemployment recipients must apply for two jobs and conduct one “work search activity,” such as attending a job fair, each week, to qualify for unemployment. The bill that passed Tuesday 130 to 71 would require the Department of Labor and Industry to reinstate the work search and registration requirements no later than June 8 or 15 days after the enactment of the legislation, whichever is later.

“However well-intentioned the additional unemployment benefits were, it has clearly created a disincentive for many people to go back to work,” Burns said. “It’s time to reinstate what was existing law and put our economy back on track by getting people back to work.”

Burns, who co-sponsored H.B. 406 with several Republican colleagues, argues that businesses can’t wait for the Wolf Administration to fully reinstate unemployment work search requirements.

In April, a survey of small business owners by the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported that 44% had job openings that they could not fill, part of a three-month record high of unfilled job openings.

“As someone who has watched his mother fight tooth-and-nail to keep the family business afloat through the pandemic, and now to be faced with another government-created obstacle -- a shortage of workers -- I have no doubt we did the right thing today,” Burns said. “Our small business owners have worked extremely hard, and it’s important that we as a state prioritize job growth and business recovery, which includes encouraging people to get back to work.”