President Joe Biden said Monday that individuals who collect unemployment and are offered a suitable job must take the opportunity or lose their unemployment benefits.
“There are a few COVID-19-related exceptions so that people aren’t forced to choose between their basic safety and a paycheck, but, otherwise, that’s the law,” Biden said in a statement.
The stern message comes as restaurant operators across the industry are desperately searching for workers to fill shifts. National chains like Taco Bell, KFC, IHOP, and Applebee’s have announced intentions to hire thousands of workers and hold national recruiting days. Many have also greatly enhanced their benefits to attract workers. For example, Chipotle announced Monday that its restaurant workers will be paid an average of $15 per hour and will be eligible for six-figure salaries in as little as three and a half years.
Numerous restaurateurs believe the labor shortage is driven by elevated unemployment benefits, which began with the CARES Act last year. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed in early March, implemented a weekly $300 boost for unemployed workers until the beginning of September. According to a Black Box Intelligence poll of more than 360 operators, 57 percent said higher pay through unemployment was the main driver. The next highest option, better quality of life in another industry, garnered 20 percent.
Biden, however, said the White House doesn’t see much evidence of people being paid to stay at home rather than go to work.
“The line has been, because of the generous unemployment benefits, that it’s a major factor in labor shortages,” Biden said. “Americans want to work. Americans want to work. And as my dad used to say, ‘A job is about a lot more than a paycheck; it’s about your dignity, your place in the community, being able to look your kid in the eye and say, everything is going to be okay.’”
“I think the people who claim Americans won’t work even if they find a good and fair opportunity underestimate the American people,” he continued. “So we’ll insist that the law is followed with respect to benefits, but we’re not going to turn our backs on our fellow Americans.”
To help get Americans back to work, the White House directed the Department of Labor to reaffirm longstanding unemployment insurance requirements to ensure that all stakeholders—states, employers, and workers—understand the rules. The department will issue a letter to states to reemphasize that individuals cannot continue receiving benefits if they turn down job opportunities due to a “general, non-specific” concern about COVID.
The President is also directing the DOL to work with states to reinstate “work search” requirements for unemployment insurance recipients. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18, 2020, mandated that states receiving certain federal funds waive the work search requirement. Since then, 29 states have reinstated the measure, and the DOL will be tasked with getting the remaining 21 states to reinforce the requirement.
“Many more workers would like to return to work if they can overcome the barriers that stand in the way,” the White House said in a statement. “We can and will continue to ensure workers and their families are protected from COVID-19, while also helping those who are able and available to search for good jobs in safe and healthy workplaces.”
Other measures to help improve the labor pool include:
- Accelerating assistance to child care providers to help parents return to work.
- Directing the DOL to expand states’ reemployment services and job counseling.
- Distributing the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
- Offering extended and expanded employee retention tax credits.
- Championing short-time compensation programs that allow workers to remain employed part-time while collecting unemployment.
- Utilizing the partial unemployment insurance program, which allows individuals to come back to work while retaining a smaller portion of unemployment insurance.