The Employment Development Department was notorious for putting roadblocks in the way of getting benefits during the pandemic. Now it's saying workers must also swear they are trying to find a job or they will lose benefits. Is this another roadblock?
Melissa Guttierez of Oakland lost her bartending job when businesses shut down in the pandemic. But like millions of others, she didn't have to look for work in order to qualify for unemployment during the lockdown.
"It asked me if I was able to go find work and I put no -- because of shelter-in-place," Guttierez said.
All that's changing now.
"To continue receiving benefits, you have to regularly certify that you're able to work and actively looking for work," says former EDD director Michael Bernick.
He says unemployed workers now must try to find a job -- although he says rules are pretty loose. "It's a nudge. It's an encouragement for people to look for work. it's a soft requirement."
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Question 3 on the EDD form asks simply: "Did you look for work?"
"And you have to certify 'yes' to continue to receive benefits, but you don't have to list employers you've contacted or any mechanism. So it's largely really entirely an honor system," says Bernick.
So, what qualifies as "looking for a job?"
Workers can register with CalJOBS, the state's employment service. Or, send out resumes, interview for a job, even attend a job fair.
Rules are even looser for gig workers, the self employed, and business owners who get special pandemic benefits.
"If you can just basically say, honestly, that you're doing things to try to get your business back or expand your business, that is sufficient," Bernick says.
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He says it's possible but unlikely the EDD will check up on you, or that workers will suddenly flood the marketplace.
"Workers are not flocking back to previous jobs... we hear every day about employers who say, 'I can't find job applicants,'" he says.
Bernick says the real nudge to find work will come in September when a $300 federal subsidy expires -- and when kids are back at school. "When the unemployment assistance supplement ends, when the schools finally reopen, when childcare is more available, and when people have had time, frankly, to reconsider, do I want to keep doing what I was doing before?"
The job search requirement can give you a head start for when those benefits expire in September -- and for gig workers, and the self employed, federal benefits end entirely on Sept. 4.