MARIETTA - Ohioans receiving unemployment benefits have long been required to regularly search for work.
Now they have to prove they're doing it.
Under changes that went into effect this spring to comply with the federal Middle Class Tax Relief Act that extended additional unemployment benefits through the end of 2012, unemployment claimants have to include the job search contacts they've made when they submit their weekly applications for benefits. They were previously required to make two such contacts a week and keep a record of them, but it was only checked by random audit, said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The concern was that some people might not be making the contacts, counting on never getting checked.
So far in 2012, 18 Washington County residents, 2.7 percent of eligible claimants, have lost at least one week of unemployment benefits as a result of failing to report at least two employer contacts, according to an ODJFS spokeswoman. That includes time before and after the new rule went into effect.
Statewide, the number is 1,719, nearly 2 percent of eligible claimants.
The requirement is to gauge a person's job search activity and encourage them to stay active and connected, Johnson said.
"We want them to maintain that connection to the labor force in their community, so that when an opportunity does open up, they can seize it," he said.
Johnson said the required contacts don't have to be actual job applications. If someone inquires about future opportunities or calls about a job that, unbeknownst to them, has just been filled, that would still count. In addition, making contacts about different jobs with the same employer is considered two separate contacts.
Washington-Morgan Community Action houses the local One-Stop employment center, and Kathy Lott-Gramkow, director of employment and training for Community Action, said they've seen more people seeking the office's assistance in locating employers to contact in order to meet the requirements.
It can be a challenge, Lott-Gramkow said, especially for people who have lost a long-term, high-paying job and are looking for something in a similar field with similar benefits.
"Your skill level and what you're looking for is going to determine how easy or hard it is to find your job contacts," she said.
The Washington County One Stop is located at 218 Putnam St. in Marietta and can be contacted at 373-3745.
Another new requirement is that people nearing the end of their federal benefit period must attend re-employment classes at a local job center. Lott-Gramkow said those are already offered, but the One Stop may see more people in them because of the requirement.
Although the national unemployment rate increased from April to May, it has continued to decline in Ohio and locally. Washington County's rate is below 7 percent for just the second time since the start of 2009.
Lott-Gramkow said some of that can be attributed to seasonal hiring, but she also believes the local economy is improving.
"I do think the market's opening up. As you look around, you're seeing more 'help wanted' signs in the windows of your smaller businesses," she said. "We're not having the major closings ... and the major layoffs we've seen over the last couple of years."