Louisiana's unemployed workers will — once again — have to look for jobs each week in order to qualify for jobless benefits. Gov. John Bel Edwards waived that requirement on April 7, saying it was too burdensome during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 450,000 out-of-work Louisiana residents — 1 in every 4 workers — had been receiving state benefits in addition to a federal benefit totaling $600 weekly. The state's highest weekly benefit is $247 per week, with the average payment being $216.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Louisiana ranks dead last in the average weekly benefit it pays the unemployed.
Congress hasn't been able to come to terms on extending the $600 federal benefit, but President Trump over the weekend bypassed Congress and provided for a $400 weekly benefit. Whether that payment will pass muster remains to be seen.
A.J. Sabine, a spokesman for the Louisiana Workforce Commission, told The Advocate the purpose of the work search requirement is to encourage people to find jobs.
"We're trying to get people back to work," Sabine said. "There are thousands of jobs available. This may be a time for people to take advantage of these opportunities."
While that sounds reasonable, there is much opposition to the change. The executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project that advocates for working families said it "is not something the state should be doing in the middle of the worst economic crisis in modern history."
A spokesman for a labor-backed non-profit workers rights group said Louisiana appears to be "proudly re-instituting and giving the impression — which is totally contradicted by reality — that the economy is doing great and it's time for everybody to go back to work."
The Advocate said Louisiana is one of only a handful of states to re-impose job search requirements. Texas and Florida reversed course because of rising coronavirus pandemic cases.
The Workforce Commission in a Facebook video said unemployed workers would have to show that they searched for at least three jobs each week. They can contact employers online, by email, by fax, by phone or by attending a job fair in-person or online.
The video said the commission has tens of thousands of available jobs listed on its "helping individuals reach employment site." The newspaper said most of the jobs require minimal skills and pay less than $15 per hour.
Both sides on this issue make valid points. The pandemic makes looking for work more difficult, but there are safe avenues for doing it. And going to work definitely beats receiving only the weekly benefit provided by the state.