SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — After more than a year of a COVID-19 hiatus, California officials once again Sunday began requiring state residents to provide proof of an employment search to obtain their unemployment benefits.

The work-search requirement had been put on pause over the months of the pandemic.

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“If you’re receiving regular unemployment benefits, the requirement to search for work will be reinstated for most claimants starting July 11 to maintain eligibility for benefits,” Employment Division Department officials posted on their website. “The requirement applies to finding suitable work that is safe to return to and is comparable to your skills, experience, usual occupation, age, and health.”

To aid in the search, EDD officials have posted resources for unemployment applicants to use.

Here are what state officials said qualify for “a reasonable effort to search for suitable work.”

  • Set up an account on CalJOBS, participate in reemployment services, post a profile on various job search or networking sites.
  • Let friends, prior employers, or community members know you are looking for work. Participate in networking, job fair events or clubs.
  • Apply for positions with employers reasonably expected to have suitable openings matching skills and experience, including government jobs and exams.
  • Engage in permissible education and training opportunities that assist in obtaining employment and do not interfere with an ability to accept suitable fulltime work.

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The state added 104,500 jobs in May – the fourth consecutive month of six-figure job gains, following the 102,000 jobs created in April, 132,400 jobs created in March and 156,100 jobs created in February:

“California continues to lead the nation’s economic recovery, adding 104,500 jobs in May, marking the fourth month in a row of six-figure job creation,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “Our health-centric approach has saved lives, resulting in one of the lowest case rates and the most vaccinations in the country – now we’re leading the nation in health and economic outcomes. We’ve regained more than half the jobs we lost over the past year, but there’s still a long way to go – that’s why we’re making historic investments in small business tax cuts and grants, tax rebates for two-thirds of California families and rent relief for those hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Since the pandemic began, California — the nation’s most populous state with nearly 40 million people — has processed more than 20 million unemployment claims and paid out more than $128 billion in benefits.

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Normally, the most money someone can get from unemployment benefits in California is $450 per week. But Congress has added an additional $300 per week on top of that because of the pandemic. That extra money won’t expire until September.

But as coronavirus cases have fallen while more people are getting vaccinated, employers have said they are having a hard time finding people to work, particularly in the service industry.

Kyle Conner, who owns Alameda Cinema Grill and Alameda Theatre and Cineplex, is among the small business struggling to fully reopen.

“I started closing on Mondays,” he told KPIX 5. “I’ve always been seven days a week.”

The lack of staffing also forced him to shorten his business hours. He has a dozen job openings.

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“I’m operating with two cooks,” he said “Pre-pandemic, we had five or six. I’m looking for a head chief, two or three line cooks, probably three servers, bussers, dishwashers, bartenders. Everything.”

Labor experts partly blamed the worker shortage on extra money from unemployment benefits for incentivizing people to stay home. And it’s not just restaurants, the entire service industry is facing the same challenge.

“We were opened seven days a week pre-pandemic,” said Julie Pruitt, owner of Acne Specialists of Oakland. “And now we’re only opened five because I don’t have enough staff.”

Robert La Come is quite the gambler.  At age 71, in the middle of a pandemic, he bought City Forest Catering in San Francisco when no catered events were happening. Now, just when the customers are finally back, he says the workers aren’t.

“The problem for me is people are getting paid not to work,” he said. “They’re getting that unemployment and that’s what they’re telling me, ‘Oh, I’m getting unemployment, I can’t work.’  Or, ‘once it’s over, then I can work for you.’”

“Now, starting this week, for those who are on regular unemployment as well as the federal extension benefits, they should be looking for work,” said EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy. “So, when they go to certify for this week, starting on Sunday, they can say, yes, I was looking for work.”

Levy said people certifying that they looked for work are doing so under penalty of perjury, and that they should keep a log of their efforts in case EDD asks for them to prove it. But former EDD director Michael Bernick says there isn’t any requirement for people to prove they’re looking for work and he doubts there will be any real enforcement of it.  He says as long as other factors exist that give people more reason to stay home, employers may have struggles hiring.

“I think things will really only begin to change in September when the (federal) unemployment supplement ends,” said Bernick, “and when the schools finally reopen and childcare increases and people’s health concerns, real and imagined, decrease. It’s only when those elements begin to come into play that we’ll see a real return to work.”

Bernick says the pandemic break has given people a chance to rethink whether they want to come back to work at all, and at what price.

That could be a problem for La Come, who said he could hire up to 10 more employees. As he heads toward the busy holiday catering season, he hopes his kitchen will be full of workers, once again earning a paycheck, and helping the big bet he placed on the business, pay off.

“I think everybody should pay their way, you know?” he said. “I had to do it. Why shouldn’t they?”

 

John Ramos contributed to this report.

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