The Center for Excellence in Polling recently surveyed voters of all political parties to gauge their opinions on unemployment reform.
The results indicate there is broad support—especially among Democrats and Independents—for measures that will refocus unemployment programs on getting people back to work and protecting the system from fraud and abuse.
Voters support focusing the UI program on reemployment.
The intent of unemployment insurance (UI) has always been reemployment. It was never intended to be a long-term welfare program or an alternative to receiving a paycheck, yet benefit expansions have blurred that line over the last several years. Despite partisanship in the media, our survey showed that refocusing the unemployment program on moving people back to work—as the stopgap measure it was intended to be—is common sense and popular among all voters.
Voters agree that those receiving benefits should be actively looking for work.
A majority of voters support requiring individuals on unemployment to report their legally required work search activities to the state (70%) as well as requiring state unemployment agencies to verify whether an individual’s work search activities meet their state’s legal requirements (69%).
An overwhelming majority of all voters support requiring states to establish a mandatory job referral system that connects job seekers with businesses that are hiring.
Those who refuse work should not be eligible for UI benefits.
… support requiring states to disqualify individuals from receiving unemployment benefits if they refuse to participate in a job referral program.
… voters—including 64 percent of Independents—support disqualification from benefits should an enrollee reject a suitable job offer.
Revoking UI eligibility for laid off workers who refuse to return to work when recalled was the top disqualification reform among Democrats and Independents.
Additionally, more than half of voters support the idea that individuals should have worked an average of at least 29 hours per week over the previous six months as a condition of eligibility for UI benefits. And they want to require states to recover UI payments they have made in error (64%).
Lawmakers should take note of the broad support for these reforms. There are numerous opportunities to implement measures at the state and national levels that reorient UI programs to align with reemployment and connect people to jobs rather than serving as an alternative to work.
Program integrity in unemployment is popular.
When those who are able to work opt to stay on unemployment, and when fraudsters game the system, there are fewer resources left for those who have nowhere else to turn. Voters understand this and support measures that will protect UI trust funds by ensuring that those who receive benefits are truly eligible.
Some of the most profound support among voters is for requiring more frequent audits of the states’ unemployment systems.
Requiring unemployment applications to be checked against a state’s “integrity data hub,” which logs cases of unemployment fraud was also popular with 78 percent of bipartisan support. This reform would serve to prevent fraudsters, incarcerated individuals, and those who have found jobs from collecting unemployment.
Additionally, there is broad support for other more specific measures that would ensure those receiving benefits are truly eligible:
… support checking new hire records at least weekly to verify whether individuals receiving unemployment benefits are truly out of work. This includes 70 percent of Independents.
… support checking unemployment applications against local, state, and federal prison rolls to ensure incarcerated individuals are not fraudulently receiving unemployment benefits. This includes a full three-quarters of both Democrats and Independents.
… of voters support requiring state unemployment agencies to verify an applicant’s identity prior to approving them for benefits, including more than three-quarters of both Democrats (78%) and Independents (84%).
It is significant that a majority of all voters agree so widely and consistently on these reforms. Unemployment program integrity reforms should be top priority for lawmakers due to the bipartisan support. It is easy for voters to support measures that will keep taxpayer resources safe from fraud and abuse.
After the pandemic exposed the weaknesses of unemployment systems across the nation, our survey results show that unemployment is an area that is primed for reform—and voters are ready to welcome them.
Voters from across the political spectrum agree that unemployment programs should not be an alternative to a paycheck, but rather a temporary mechanism to help people get back into the workforce quickly. And they support measures that will ensure bad actors aren’t taking advantage of the system through fraud and improper payments.
Lawmakers have a window of opportunity to move on reforms that will help pave the path on the roadmap to the American Dream and, in turn, assist in the battle to tame inflation.