Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Ralph Northam asking for stronger enforcement of unemployment claims through the Virginia Employment Commission.
Luria is asking the governor to use funding from the newly passed American Rescue Plan Act to help the state agency run more efficiently, thus ensuring help gets to those who need it while making sure people who can find work accept jobs.
Luria’s letter reads, in part: “While I appreciate that your administration recently devoted $20 million to processing outstanding unemployment claims for struggling individuals, we also need to more effectively enforce existing regulations around unemployment because expediting adjudication will not fully address the concerns of our small businesses.”
Luria says she hopes better enforcement of claims will help the struggling Hampton Roads hospitality industry hire enough employees ahead of what’s expected to be a record summer of tourism.
The jobs are there. Hotels in Virginia Beach have around 1,100 openings yet businesses can’t seem to find enough employees to operate at full capacity.
John Zirkle, president of the Virginia Beach Hotel Association, understands the staffing problem has many causes: for example, parents who need to stay home with students learning remotely. Zirkle also lays a portion of the blame on unemployment benefits.
So does Curtis Lyons the owner of Roger Brown’s restaurant in Portsmouth.
“My biggest competition right now is the government,” said Lyons. “Because the government is paying them more than sometimes they make at these retail establishments, restaurants and all.”
We’ve heard a similar story across the industry: plenty of applicants but only a small portion show up for interviews. Even fewer accept a job. Business owners blame this trend on increased unemployment benefits, saying they believe people are applying without ever intending to take a job.
While Congress provides funding, including extra benefits through Sept. 4, the Virginia Employment Commission decides who is and is not eligible for those benefits.
“This is not a permanent benefit,” said Luria. “I urge people to take advantage of the many work opportunities that are out there and also for the Virginia Employment Commission to enforce the law essentially. If people are offered suitable employment then that should be the time that those benefits end because they can go back to work.”
As a former small business owner, Luria says she has been an advocate to local small businesses.
“We want to see our businesses fully manned and staffed and operating at full capacity and taking advantage of the big tourism season to come.”
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