Virginia Will Pay Up To $500 To Lure People Back To Work The state is piloting a $3 million "Return to Earn" grant program that will match up to $500 in signing bonuses provided by eligible small businesses.
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Virginia Will Pay Up To $500 To Lure People Back To Work

Virginia is offering matching bonuses to workers who take a new job at a small business. "These bonuses will serve as an incentive for unemployed workers to get back into the workforce," said Gov. Ralph Northam. John Brighenti/Flickr hide caption

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John Brighenti/Flickr

Virginia will give up to $500 to employees who return to work at small businesses across the commonwealth, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday.

In an effort to attract unemployed residents back to the workforce after months of historic pandemic-induced joblessness, the state is piloting a $3 million "Return to Earn" grant program that will match up to $500 in signing bonuses provided by eligible small businesses.

Employers incorporated in Virginia with 100 or fewer employees are eligible for matching funds. Grants are available only to full-time or part-time W-2 employees earning at least $15 an hour, who are hired after May 31, 2021. Businesses can receive matches for up to 25 new employees.

Qualifying child care businesses can also get up to $500 without any match requirement.

"Many Virginians who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic still face a variety of barriers to returning to work like access to affordable child care, transportation, and a living wage," said Northam, a Democrat, in a statement. "These bonuses will serve as an incentive for unemployed workers to get back into the workforce while also helping employers fill vacant jobs."

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The program is timed to coincide with the resumption of Virginia's work-search requirement for individuals collecting unemployment, according to the administration. As of May 31, claimants can only continue to collect benefits if they can prove they're actively looking for work.

Initial claims for unemployment dropped significantly in Virginia the week before the work search requirement was reinstated, federal data show. Claims continued to drop slightly during the week ending June 5.

Employers across the region and the U.S. have complained that many unemployed individuals aren't re-entering the workforce quickly as the pandemic wanes, despite the wide availability of coronavirus vaccines. Some business owners blame federally subsidized unemployment benefits for keeping people at home, though recent research casts doubt on that theory.

Many restaurant workers say they're not going back to work because wages and tips are too low, according to a survey by One Fair Wage, an organization that supports eliminating subminimum wages in the hospitality industry.

Virginia's $3 million initiative is funded by set aside dollars provided under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act signed into law in 2014, and it will be distributed "proportional to the number of continuing unemployment insurance claims" in each of the state's workforce development areas. Northam may allocate more funding if the program is successful.

Under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland will soon end federal unemployment benefits, in an effort to compel residents back to the workforce. Virginia has not taken that step.

States including Arizona, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and Montana have rolled out "return to work" incentives as they've phased out unemployment benefits.

"We're going to use federal money to encourage people to work instead of paying people not to work," Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said last month.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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