State Senate Republicans want to pay jobless workers a $1,200 get-back-to-work bonus over the next year to take a job and get off unemployment by Sep. 4.
The pitch comes as one of the 923 amendments to the $47.6 billion Senate budget for fiscal 2022 that lawmakers will debate starting Tuesday.
“For several weeks, I’ve heard from employers in my district — whether they are restaurants or seasonal-type businesses like a drive-in movie theater, the trucking industry and others — that they are having trouble finding people to come back to work,” said state Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Webster, who submitted the amendment. “The No.1 hurdle is that wages are maybe a little more competitive or on par with unemployment benefits.”
Fattman says his “sign-on bonus” of up to $1,200 would serve as an incentive to get people back to work and encourage them to keep their jobs. The bonus would be paid out in three increments: $400 for securing a job before Sept. 4, $400 upon proof of employment after six months and the final $400 payment would come after a full year of continuous employment.
His proposal would rely on a portion of the $5.3 billion in coronavirus aid headed to the state from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The federal government has been supplementing unemployment benefits since the beginning of the pandemic, first by $600 in additional assistance per week, now $300 per week. Fattman said it’s time to put an end to the “unusually generous” unemployment benefits that “made a lot of sense back at the height of the pandemic.”
While nearly two dozen Republican-led states have moved to cancel the federal unemployment boost in their states, Gov. Charlie Baker told a Herald reporter earlier this month that he had no plans to do so in Massachusetts.
His comments came despite an outcry from employers over a shortage of workers and as the unemployment rate — hovering at 6.5% as of April — remains more than double what it was at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst said Fattman’s plan is “a terrific idea” but one that’s unlikely to pass in a Legislature where Democrats hold a supermajority.
So far, the Senate’s two other Republicans — Sens. Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth and Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester — have signed on. House lawmakers also declined to draw on any of the American Rescue Plan funds in their 2022 budget.
Hurst did, however, take issue with Fattman’s plan for paying for the sign-on bonus.
“The first cut in (American Rescue Plan) money has to be to roll back the $7 billion tax increase on employers because of a crisis that was not their fault. That should be the first priority,” Hurst said, referencing massive increases in unemployment taxes small businesses around the state are facing as a result of the massive number of claims borne out of the pandemic.
State lawmakers are considering a separate bill that would allow pandemic claims to paid off over 20 years, including interest.
Fattman argued the best way to serve small businesses is “to get people back to work.”