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Unemployed workers risk benefits if they skip job referrals

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Unemployed Idaho residents could get kicked out of a state benefits program if they don’t follow new job-seeking requirements that went into effect this month.

People receiving unemployment benefits now have two business days to apply for a job opening after receiving a referral from the Idaho Department of Labor, the Idaho Statesman reported. If they don’t, they could lose their unemployment benefits.

“Once a job is referred, the claimant must apply for the job or act on that referral,” Idaho Department of Labor director Jani Revier said. “In the past, when referrals were made, there were no consequences if they didn’t follow up.”

State workforce consultants will check with the potential employer to verify that the person applied for the referred job.

Previously, the labor department didn’t track whether people followed up on referrals.

Idaho has had a tight labor market in recent years. The unemployment rate was consistently either at or below 3% from September 2018 until after the coronavirus emerged in Idaho in March 2020. Revier said economists consider a region to have full employment when the jobless rate is at 4% or lower.

“Many of the problems we saw pre-pandemic are back: The really tight labor market is back and, once again, businesses are struggling to find workers,” she said.

In March, there were 1.4 available jobs for every unemployed Idaho resident, Revier said. With more openings than available workers, that makes it difficult for employers to fill jobs. That same month, there 1.2 unemployed workers nationally for every job opening, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Property values and housing costs have climbed dramatically across much of the state in recent years, particularly during the pandemic. Idaho’s minimum wage of $7.25, meanwhile, hasn’t increased since 2009. A full-time minimum wage worker would earn about $1,250 a month before taxes. Online rental agency ApartmentList.com says the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Boise is just over $900 a month.

Idaho is ending its participation Saturday in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program, which provided an extra $300 per week to unemployment recipients. Programs for self-employed workers, low-wage earners and workers with pending or denied issues are also set to end.

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