PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Businesses across the state are struggling to hire new employees, and Matt Weldon, acting director of the R.I. Department of Labor and Training (DLT), said they’re working on legislation that would encourage unemployed Rhode Islanders to head back to work.
Weldon said the requirement for recipients to prove they’re looking for work has been suspended amid the pandemic, meaning Rhode Islanders can continue to receive benefits without actively searching for a new job.
But he said it’s important for everyone to remember that the requirement won’t stay suspended forever.
“That’s going to be reintroduced very soon because the vaccine rollout is going really well,” Weldon said during his bimonthly interview on 12 News Now at 4. “We know everyone 16 and older can get a vaccine at this point. It’s safe to go back to work.”
Watch the full interview in the video above.
The bill, Weldon said, would allow people to earn more money, stay connected to unemployment, keep more of what they earn and still receive the $300 bonus.
“All of those things together should get people back to work,” he said. “We’re going to encourage people to go back and incentivize it as well.”
While unemployment claims are trending downward at the DLT, Weldon said they’re still extremely busy.
“I want to apologize to people because I know how frustrating it can be when you can’t get ahold of someone on the phone,” he said.
In an effort to make things easier, Weldon said the DLT launched an online system that allows people to check on the status of their claim. He said the DLT will also implement a “virtual queue.”
“What that means is you are on hold but don’t have to wait on the phone,” Weldon said. “We’ll call you back.”
“We know we need to do more, we need to do better and I’m absolutely committed to it,” he continued.
Weldon estimates that right now, there are still roughly 67,000 people requesting payments each week.
He said while the number of claims has gone down, it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t go back up, adding that if you looked at a chart of the claims over the past year it will “look kind of like a roller coaster.”
“Hopefully now it evens out and it becomes the most boring roller coaster ride we’ve ever had,” Weldon said.