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Mass. Offers Cash Bonuses to Lure People Back to Work

Thanks to a recent piece of legislation, Massachusetts is launching a workforce program that will provide $4,000 to businesses per new employee. The money can be used for signing bonuses or training.

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(TNS) — The Baker administration is dangling cash bonuses for employers to lure more people back to the state's workforce amid a prolonged hiring crunch.

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

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

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

"The flexible funds from this program will be distributed to employers quickly to help them with training costs, tuition support and other needs," he said.

To qualify, employees must be Massachusetts residents and have been hired after March 23, when the program was officially launched. They must work at least 60 days at a job with 30 hours or more to qualify for the bonuses. Workers must be getting paid at least $14.25 per hour, but earning not more than $85,000 annually.

The funds will be provided to participating employers on a first-come, first-serve basis, and individual businesses are limited to $400,000 for the bonuses.

Labor Secretary Rosalin Acosta said she hopes the hiring bonuses "will encourage employers to expand their hiring strategy to include those with potential for learning and growing on the job, over a direct-skills match, as this will widen the candidate pool and help both jobseekers 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 of federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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

"The biggest problem employers are facing 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 that nearly half of all businesses couldn't hire enough workers in February, while more than 23% of available positions went unfilled — a 48-year high. Ninety-three percent of businesses reported few or no qualified applicants, the survey found.

Business leaders in Massachusetts say the latest data shows the labor shortage is continuing to drag on the state's economic recovery.

On Monday, the Labor Department reported that the state's unemployment rate dropped slightly to 4.7% in February after adding about 14,600 jobs.

The state's leisure and hospitality sectors were responsible for a majority of the new hires in February, according to a report by 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 spread of the virus.

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

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