RICHMOND, Va. -- Vaccination rates and lifted COVID-19 restrictions are helping businesses expand reopening efforts in Virginia, but many of them still desperately need workers. Now, business leaders are optimistic that a renewed requirement for unemployed Virginians could offer some support.
As the CBS 6 Problem Solvers have been reporting for months, thousands of Virginians are still wondering where their benefits are after payments suddenly stopped and communication remains limited at the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).
"People are stuck in limbo," said Martin Wegbreit, Litigation Director at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. "They're not getting a payment and not getting an appealable decision so that they could get any type of error corrected.”
While they wait to hear back from the VEC about their missing payments, they face a new task.
Sunday marked the first time since March 2020 where people collecting unemployment benefits must report at least two weekly efforts to find work to the VEC.
“People do need to do the right thing and do the job search,” said Wegbreit.
The requirement was paused at the start of the pandemic but now reinstated as the economy rebounds.
Wegbreit emphasized the requirement even applies to those whose benefits are backlogged but he said that shouldn't be discouraging.
“If people do get a new job as a result of the job search or otherwise, that new job will not affect their past claim for benefits," he said.
Meanwhile, Nicole Riley, Virginia State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, is optimistic about the job search policy.
“I think there is some hope there that, you know, employers will start seeing folks applying more for jobs," Riley said.
Nearly half of the more than 6,000 small businesses she represents are facing a critical worker shortage according to a new survey by the NFIB.
“48% -- that’s a record high," Riley said.
To address the issue, she said state leaders need to do more than just reinstate the job search requirement.
“We're also encouraging the governor and the General Assembly to follow the lead of other states like Maryland, where they've stopped accepting the extra $300 in federal unemployment benefits, and instead, give workers a back to work bonus.”
But Wegbreit believes that move would be unfair.
“Because people have been counting on those programs being there in case they are unable to get jobs," Wegbreit explained.
Still, he said benefits will likely thin out come September, so the time to be seriously hunting for work is now.
“People should be aware that we're not off the cliff yet with these federal programs, but we're getting close to it," he said.
For those looking for a job, the Virginia Workforce Connection is a great resource. People can search for jobs by city and industry and even update their resume.
As of Sunday, there were more than 530,000 openings statewide, and the number just keeps growing.
You can report job contacts to the VEC the usual way you file weekly claims by phone or online.