Coronavirus

Can unemployed Americans who refuse a job apply for unemployment benefits?

Jobless citizens who refuse to work in conditions putting them at risk of catching covid-19 will still be entitled to benefits if they turn down work.

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Can unemployed Americans who refuse a job apply for unemployment benefits?
SAUL LOEB AFP

Workers who’ve lost their jobs will be allowed to turn down posts they deem too risky because of the coronavirus and continue to collect unemployment benefits, under new guidance announced on Thursday from the US Department of Labor.

The latest directive stems from an order signed by President Joe Biden last month, expand the conditions under which workers may be eligible for pandemic specific jobless benefits, report CNN.

"Today's guidance opens the door to relief for workers who have faced difficult, if not impossible, choices between accepting employment in an unsafe workplace to receive a steady source of income, and protecting their health and that of their loved ones," said Patricia Smith, senior adviser to the Labor secretary.

The benefits scheme implemented for covid-19 or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA) is already available to those who can't work because they have a health condition that puts them at risk of the virus, or because their children's schools have closed. Prior guidance issued under the Trump administration had left some freedom for states to stop providing benefits to those who refused work because of coronavirus safety concerns.

Congress created the program last March to provide payments to certain people affected by the coronavirus, as well as freelance and gig workers, independent contractors and others who don't typically qualify.

What do the new jobless benefit rules mean?

The new rules allow benefits claimants to remain eligible by self-attesting that the job offered does not meet covid-related safety standards, such as mask wearing, physical distancing or providing of personal protective equipment, say CNN.

The guidance also expands eligibility for pandemic jobless benefits to workers who were laid off or who’ve had their work hours reduced as a direct result of covid-19. The measure also extends to school workers who find themselves without a contract or guaranteed employment who face pay reductions or job losses when schools are closed due to the pandemic.

Additionally, those who have quit their jobs can take care of their children and continue qualifying for benefits after schools reopen.

The agency, which does not know how many people may be affected by the action, said it expects states won't be able to implement the new rules until the end of March, at the earliest. Benefits will be paid retroactively.

Tackling unemployment benefit fraud, head on

The government has also vowed to make moves to tackle rampant unemployment benefit fraud that has been ravaging the systems set up to bring emergency aid to those most in need.

"We have thus far taken a state by state approach and that is not enough," said Suzi Levine, a principal deputy assistant secretary, who had to deal with the explosion of fraud over the past year as head of Washington state's unemployment agency. "We need a national approach to help work in partnership with the states."