Only 400 Mainers have cashed in on Gov. Mills’ Back to Work program


The Maine Department of Labor (DOL) announced on August 11 it is extending the deadline for its Back to Work grant program, which was initially closed to applications on August 6. The new deadline for applications is August 20.

The DOL stated the reason for the extension was to allow “employers who did not file their application by the original August 6, 2021 deadline an additional two weeks to do so.”

The Back to Work grant program was originally announced in June 2021. It offers one-time grants to qualified new hires who accepted a job between June 15, 2021 and July 25, 2021. Employers are required to submit grant applications for eligible employees.

Employees who began a full-time job in that time period were eligible to receive a $1,500 grant if they received unemployment benefits for the week ending May 29, 2021 and did not receive unemployment benefits while they were employed. To be considered full-time, employees had to work at least 35 hours per week and receive an hourly wage of less than $25.

A $750 grant for part-time employees was made available on July 1. To be eligible, part-time employees had to start a job working at least 20 hours a week and receive an hourly wage of less than $25. 

According to the original rules of the program, new hires had to be employed for at least eight weeks to be eligible to receive a grant. In its August 11 press release, the DOL clarified that employees need not have completed the full eight weeks of work before their employer applies for a grant on their behalf. The DOL stated payroll verification to confirm length of employment takes place at a stage after the application is made.

In the same press release, the DOL announced that, as of August 6, 386 employers had participated in the program by submitting applications for more than 400 employees whom the DOL found provisionally eligible.

The DOL reported that 41 percent of employers who had filed applications were small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. According to their data, 19 percent of applications came from the healthcare and social service industries, 19 percent came from the accommodation and food service industries, and 13 percent came from retail trade.

The DOL did not provide any information about how many applications had been submitted for the $1,500 grant and how many had been submitted for the $750 grant. 

The DOL did not announce how many employees were provisionally approved to receive the $1,500 grant and how many were provisionally approved to receive the $750 grant. If all of the approximately 400 employees for whom the DOL has approved grants received the full $1,500 dollars, the DOL has paid out approximately $600,000 of the $10 million it set aside for the program. That means approximately 6% of the funds available have been spent.

In a statement in the DOL’s August 11 release, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development Heather Johnson said she was “pleased” that nearly 400 employers took advantage of the program.

“Maine, like all states, is confronting a workforce shortage worsened by the pandemic, and we are pleased we were able to provide this tool alongside our other efforts to help get people back to work. We remain committed to finding solutions to the barriers that remain to families returning work [sic].” said Johnson.


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