Mass. Offers cash bonuses to entice people back to work

(TNS) – The Baker administration is dangling cash bonuses to employers to lure more people into the state’s workforce amid a protracted hiring crisis.

The HireNow program, launched by the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, offers participating companies up to $4,000 per employee for a signing bonus or to cover costs training of workers.

Money for the program comes from a $4 billion pandemic relief bill signed by Governor Charlie Baker in December, which is backed by federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and a surplus from the ‘State. The new law provided $50 million for the program.

Baker said the goal of the initiative is to fill thousands of job vacancies in industries ranging from manufacturing to retail by training and hiring new workers.

“The flexible funds from this program will be distributed quickly to employers to help cover training costs, tuition and other needs,” he said.

To be eligible, employees must be Massachusetts residents and hired after March 23, when the program officially launched. They must work at least 60 days at a job of 30 hours or more to qualify for the bonuses. Workers must be paid at least $14.25 per hour, but no more than $85,000 per year.

Funds will be paid out to participating employers on a first-come, first-served basis, and individual businesses are limited to $400,000 for bonuses.

Labor Secretary Rosalin Acosta said she hopes the hiring bonuses “will encourage employers to broaden their hiring strategy to include those who have potential to learn and grow on the job, relative to a direct skills match, as this will broaden the pool of candidates and help job seekers and businesses.”

There are more than 85,000 workers not participating in the labor market compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to a recent analysis by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, praised the cash bonus program but said employers were still struggling to find qualified candidates to fill vacancies.

“The biggest problem employers face is getting people to walk through the door and apply for a job opening,” Carlozzi said.

The Business Group’s latest monthly survey of employers found nearly half of all businesses could not hire enough workers in February, while more than 23% of available vacancies went unfilled, a high in 48 years. Ninety-three percent of companies reported few or no qualified candidates, according to the survey.

Massachusetts business leaders say the latest data shows labor shortages continue to hold back the state’s economic recovery.

On Monday, the Labor Department said the state’s unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.7% in February after adding about 14,600 jobs.

The state’s leisure and hospitality sectors were responsible for the majority of new hires in February, according to a report from the state agency.

Labor officials point out that Massachusetts has gained nearly 571,400 jobs since April 2020, when many businesses were closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the state’s labor force participation rate, or the number of people 16 or older who were working or unemployed and looking for work, fell slightly to 65.9% in February, according to the agency.

©2022 The Eagle-Tribune, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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