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Mills Announces Cash Incentive Program To Get Unemployed Mainers Back To Work

More companies are finding it difficult to hire skilled employees, pressuring employers to rethink their hiring strategies.
Wilfredo Lee
More companies are finding it difficult to hire skilled employees, pressuring employers to rethink their hiring strategies.

The Mills Administration is launching a new initiative to get Mainers back into the workforce. The so-called "Back to Work" program will provide one-time payments of at least a thousand dollars to eligible workers who begin jobs in June or July. It comes as employers are desperately seeking workers ahead of what's expected to be a busy summer tourist season.

Starting Tuesday, workers who are out of a job could get a big bonus if they're hired over the next month and half. Maine's new 'Back to Work' program will give one-time payments of $1500 for workers who start jobs in June and $1000 for workers who start in July. To qualify, workers must have recently received unemployment benefits and accept a full-time job that pays less than $25 an hour for at least eight consecutive weeks.

Heather Johnson, the Commissioner of Maine's Department of Economic and Community Development, says the program is designed to help people who face barriers returning to a job.

"The longer people are out of work, the more difficult it is to transition back in," Johnson says. "So, having the financial resources to pay those return to work costs, like getting started back with child care potentially, or transportation, other costs like that going back to work, having that extra supplement we think will be helpful."

The program also helps businesses that don't have extra funds themselves to attract employees. And Curtis Picard of the Retail Association of Maine says there is high demand for workers.

"I travel the state quite a bit, and I see 'Help Wanted' and 'Now Hiring' signs everywhere," Picard says.

Picard says retailers need a robust workforce to get the most from this summer's tourist season after barely getting by last year in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The reality is we still lost June and July," Picard says. "So Maine can't afford to miss any of those critical weeks in the summertime."

The Back to Work program will operate on a first come, first served basis, and employers must apply. If successful, they'll receive grant funds and will then pass them on to eligible employees.

The program has a price tag of $10 million, which the administration says will come from federal funding that's been allotted to the state. Commissioner Johnson says it could reach up to 7,500 people.