At today’s twice-a-week Covid briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled a new program designed to address New Jersey’s labor shortage and unemployment problems in one fell swoop.
The program, called Return and Earn, will use American Rescue Plan funds to pay workers a $500 benefit for finding a job at an employer with 100 employees or fewer, and pay employers up to $10,000 in wage subsidies for hiring and training new employees.
“Return and Earn is a win-win solution,” Murphy said. “It will assist unemployed workers in their return to work, and it will help small businesses fill the positions they need to fill to grow, thrive, and lead our economic recovery.”
There are some restrictions on employers hoping to gain funding, among them that the jobs being offered must pay at least $15 an hour. The state Department of Labor will administer the initiative, which Murphy described for now as a pilot program.
“We’re pretty excited about it, but I would characterize it as a pilot,” he said. “We’re going to put $10 million into it and get it off the ground, and see what the uptake is. If it is as significant as we anticipate it may be, we’ll find ways to amp that up.”
The program in some ways strikes a balance between progressive policies aimed at directly aiding workers, and conservative ones designed to discourage unemployment. Murphy has been criticized on the issue of welfare and unemployment before; on the New Jersey Globe Power Hour last Saturday, Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli blamed the state’s employment troubles on Murphy’s relief policies.
“There is a severe labor shortage in New Jersey because Phil Murphy has been too generous for too long with unemployment benefits and the eviction moratorium,” Ciattarelli said. “I’m all about a hand up. I’m all about taking care of our brothers and sisters. I’m all about taking care of hardship cases. But we are today where we are because of Phil Murphy’s policies.”
But unlike direct welfare policies, Return and Earn is by nature predicated on unemployed or underemployed workers finding a job, potentially blunting criticism from the right.
“We know that there are good jobs out there just waiting to be filled,” Murphy said. “Our hope is that Return and Earn will make it easier and faster for employers to connect with potential employees, and to bring them onboard.”