By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana residents receiving unemployment benefits will again have to show they are actively searching for work as the governor is reinstating a requirement that he lifted soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order Tuesday that puts the job search requirement back in place starting June 1.
Indiana is joining several other states creating more requirements for people to stay on unemployment, with many businesses blaming the ease of obtaining the weekly jobless benefits with making it more difficult to fill job openings.
Holcomb said last week he was directing the state Department of Workforce Development for a demographic analysis of unemployed residents while he considered whether to withdraw Indiana from a $300-a-week supplemental federal payment on top of state benefits. The maximum state payment is $390 a week.
“Our unemployment rate stands at 3.9 percent, which is near pre-pandemic levels, and our labor force mirrors pre-pandemic levels, when we also had worker shortages,” Holcomb said in a statement.
The governor’s new order means that those seeking unemployment benefits must submit a weekly report on their job-seeking efforts, which can include applying for work, attending job fairs or participating in state workshops.
Indiana had about 60,000 people receiving traditional unemployment benefits in mid-April — down some 195,000, or 75%, from a year ago, according to federal statistics. About 225,000 people received payments from other federal jobless programs started to assist those who lost income during the pandemic.
The state’s unemployment rate has plunged since peaking at 16.9% in April 2020. It was 3.9% for last month after being stable between 3.1% and 3.6% over a three-year span before the pandemic prompted widespread business closures.
Republican legislative leaders said they supported Holcomb’s actions.
“We’re back to the challenge that we had pre pandemic were trying to find bodies to fill jobs,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said.
Businesses might also need to become more aggressive to hire workers, such as many fast-food restaurants have done in paying more than minimum wage, Bray said.
“If you want to get people to work, you are going to have to start paying them a little more,” Bray said. “I think that employers are going to have to do that in order to compete.”
The Indiana Democratic Party said state officials need to help those in low-paying jobs, including the estimated nearly 900,000 people working for minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
“We cannot ignore the reality that it’s time for Indiana to increase its minimum wage and provide better opportunities for our workers.” Said Lauren Ganapini, the state Democratic Party’s executive director.