Labor

Gov. Mills’ ‘Back to Work’ program comes to a close

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The Maine Department of Labor’s (DOL) Back-to-Work grant program will close applications on Friday, August 6. The program allows employers to file grant applications on behalf of new employees hired either full-time or part-time between June 15 and July 25.

Under the program, full-time hires are eligible to receive a one-time grant of $1,500 and part-time hires receive a one-time grant of $750.

The DOL first announced the grant program, which it describes as offering “grants to businesses to pay as hiring bonuses to qualifying new employees,” on June 14. According to a press release from Gov. Janet Mills’ office announcing the grant program, its goal is to “accelerate the transition of unemployed Maine people back into the workforce and help businesses recover from pandemic-related business disruption.”

DOL announced it would award up to $10 million to eligible workers available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The money for the grant program came from federal funding. Initially, part-time employees were not eligible for the program. Employees who began work between June 15 and June 30 were eligible to receive $1,500 and employees who started work in July were eligible to receive a $1,000 grant.

However, on July 30 the DOL announced updates to the program that included a $750 grant that would be awarded to new employees who started work between June 15 and July 25. The agency also announced it was extending the $1,500 grant for the duration of the program. In the same update, they announced that, as of June 30, 100 employers had applied for grants to cover over 300 workers, more than 20% of whom were in the accommodation and food services industry. 

The DOL did not announce how many of the applications were for the $1,500 or $1,000 grant. The agency has not provided an update on the program since July 1. 

As of August 4, the online portal through which employers can fill out a grant application on behalf of new hires was still operational. The DOL had announced they would close the portal if the $10 million set aside for grants had been expended.

The DOL did not return a request for information about the number of awards that have been issued, the amount of those awards or an accounting of how much of the $10 million grant has been spent.

On July 30, the DOL also announced it was updating some aspects of how it processed unemployment claims. The changes are the result of more than 30 days having passed since the expiration of Maine’s state of emergency, which ended on June 30. As part of the change, COVID-19 related reasons, such as the need to quarantine or care for dependent family members, no longer make a person eligible to receive state unemployment insurance. However, this does not make individuals ineligible to receive federal enhanced unemployment benefits. 

The DOL also issued a press release on July 23 reminding unemployment claimants about recent changes to the federal government’s requirements for those making claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The change in policy requires anyone who received PUA benefits beginning with the week ending January 2, 2021 to submit proof they were employed or self-employed before the time period for which they were seeking unemployment. That proof had to be be submitted by August 4. 

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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