Business groups pitch return-to-work bonuses

·3 min read

May 25—BOSTON — Business leaders are calling on the state to provide hiring bonuses as part of an effort to lure workers back to their jobs.

In a letter to Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta, several business groups ask the state to divert money from the latest federal pandemic relief package to provide hiring bonuses for workers who get off unemployment and find a new job.

The groups, which include the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said a return-to-work bonus program will benefit employees and employers.

"For employees, the bonus will offset the enhanced unemployment benefits they are receiving," they wrote. "For employers with unfilled jobs, the bonus is a tool to attract new employees."

The business groups suggested a return-to-work program provide bonuses of $1,200 to $1,500 to unemployed claimants who find a job and stay employed full-time for four weeks. They suggested a prorated bonus for part-time workers.

Money is available from the state's share of federal relief funds, and the business groups suggest allocating $50 million to set up the program.

"While the economic recovery is still in progress, the number of job openings in the state is on the rise," the groups wrote. "Businesses that survived the pandemic will encounter new challenges if they cannot field a workforce that is adequate to meet customer and client demands."

The groups note that other states have created similar programs as they try to bring workers back to fill record job vacancies.

In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu is offering $500 to $1,000 cash bonuses for workers if they get a new job and keep it for at least eight weeks.

Sununu also brought back a work search requirement for jobless benefits and announced this week that beginning June 19 the state won't be participating in federal unemployment programs, including a $300 per week extra benefit.

In Massachusetts, employers have also been pushing Gov. Charlie Baker's administration to end participation in the federal programs, which were extended until September as part of the latest pandemic relief bill.

Employers say the generous benefits have given some laid-off workers more income from federal and state payments than they normally make on the job, making it harder to bring those people back to work.

Last week, Baker announced that work search requirements, which were suspended throughout the pandemic, will resume beginning the week of June 15 for all those collecting unemployment benefits. Under the rules, benefits recipients must prove their efforts to find a new job.

While the number of new unemployment claims has dropped in recent weeks, more than 325,000 individuals in Massachusetts were still collecting benefits during the week that ended May 8, according to the U.S. Labor Department's weekly jobs report.

"There seems to be a major disconnect," said Chris Carlozzi, NFIB's Massachusetts director. "You can walk down any street and see a 'help wanted' sign in just about every business window, and yet we're still seeing a record number of people collecting unemployment benefits. That's a problem."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhinews.com

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