Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018

The Bipartisan Budget Act signed into law earlier this year included one major piece of legislation affecting the unemployment insurance (UI) program. Section 30206 of the Act provides ten years of guaranteed (and significantly expanded) funding for the Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments (RESEA) program and codifies DOL’s authority to operate the RESEA program in the Social Security Act.

Since 2005, Congress has been providing grants to states through discretionary appropriations for some form of reemployment services directed specifically at UI claimants. In its current form, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) provides RESEA grants to states to conduct UI eligibility assessments in combination with the provision of reemployment services to UI claimants identified as likely to exhaust benefits, as well as ex-servicemembers.

Reemployment services under RESEA funds must include orientation to available services, development of an individual reemployment plan, career and labor market information, registration with the state’s job bank and Employment Service, and appropriate job referrals and/or job search assistance. RESEA is modeled on a Nevada reemployment program, which researchers found improved reemployment outcomes (sooner return-to-work, higher wages and better job retention) and shortened duration of UI benefits by combining delivery of eligibility assessments and reemployment services. The new Congressional authorization of RESEA reflects a bipartisan commitment to build on the program’s success and to leverage “evidence-based” policy to help more unemployed workers get good jobs quickly.

Since the depths of the Great Recession, NELP has supported public reemployment services that will assist workers in their efforts to get back to work in good jobs and restore their footing on the economic ladder. See Strengthening Unemployment Protections in America: Modernizing Unemployment Insurance, pp. 12-25.  Conceptually, RESEA is the kind of program that, when administered with an eye toward providing guidance and support, has the potential to make a positive difference in the lives of jobless workers.  On the other hand, we have been concerned with recent spikes in disqualifications in some states that appear to have coincided with the expansion of the RESEA program, especially denials tied to inflexible application of work search documentation requirements. See NELP’s recent report, Closing Doors on the Unemployed, pp. 11-17.

The good news about the new RESEA legislation is that it incorporates several important due process protections to ensure that the focus of the program is on returning UI claimants to work, not discouraging unemployed workers from collecting benefits they have earned through their work histories.  Specifically, the new law will require states applying for RESEA grants to provide assurances (and descriptions of how) to USDOL that their programs will provide:

“proper notification to participating individuals of the program’s eligibility conditions, requirements, and benefits, including the issuance of warnings and simple, clear notifications to ensure that participating individuals are fully aware of the consequences of failing to adhere to such requirements, including policies related to non-attendance or non-fulfillment of work search requirements; and … reasonable scheduling accommodations to maximize participation for eligible individuals…”

This expanded federal investment in RESEA signals an important turning point in the national UI program. State UI agencies will be more hands-on in the business of reemployment. It will be important for UI advocates to hold states accountable for meeting key RESEA program goals: – first, to provide reemployment services that really are (based on measurable evidence) likely to help workers find good jobs (and not just pressure them to take any job, whether suitable or not) , and second, to administer the program fairly by making sure that unemployed workers are provided clear understandable explanations of program requirements and are not denied benefits for non-compliance with rules that have not been effectively communicated.

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