Return-to-Work incentive hopes to give state’s workforce a boost

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – In an effort to bolster the Commonwealth’s workforce, Gov. Andy Beshear announced a new incentive plan today to pay up to 15,000 Kentuckians on unemployment insurance a one-time $1,500 bonus to come back to the workforce by July 30.

The program is funded by $22.5 million set aside in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. The vision for the program is to motivate more people to leave unemployment insurance and begin filling job vacancies throughout Kentucky and further push the economy as the state recovers from the pandemic.

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“We want every Kentuckian working and participating as we sprint out of this pandemic with our economy booming,” Gov. Beshear said. “We wanted the right solution – not a red state or blue state solution – to thread this needle right to energize our thriving economy while looking out for those still trying to emerge from this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic who desperately need help. This is a step in the right direction for our people, our economy and our employers.”

“On behalf of Houchens Industries, its family of companies and the entire community, we applaud the Governor’s action taken today to incentivize employees to return to work,” said Spencer A. Coates, president of Houchens Industries Inc. in Bowling Green.

“While the extra unemployment benefits have been helpful for grocers and retailers, as people are returning to shop in person, we need to make sure there are enough store associates to provide the in-store service customers expect. The Kentucky retail community fully supports the return-to-work incentive,” said Tod Griffin, president of the Kentucky Retail Federation. “With so many businesses facing workforce shortages, we think this is a step in the right direction and thank Gov. Beshear for his leadership on this issue. We are also encouraged by the $763 million in federal funds that will go toward Kentucky’s childcare providers, as we know lack of childcare has been a consistent and significant barrier for many Kentuckians wanting to get back to work. Retailers remain committed to supporting Kentucky’s recovery as we move past the pandemic, and these programs will help us be even more effective in helping Kentucky’s economy and workforce bounce back.”

President of ValuMarket in Louisville and Chair of the Kentucky Grocers & Convenience Store Association Board of Directors James Neumann shared, “Kentucky grocers and convenience stores navigated many challenges to keep communities running throughout the pandemic. Now, like so many other businesses across the Commonwealth and the country, we are struggling to hire the workforce we need to stay fully operational and serving our customers. We thank Gov. Beshear for taking action to address our concerns. We believe the return-to-work incentive, coupled with the significant relief funds coming to Kentucky childcare providers, will help more Kentuckians get back to work and keep our economy moving forward in the months ahead.”

However, not all Kentuckians approve of the new incentive.

“Not only is paying people $1,500 to get a job extremely insulting to those who have worked throughout this pandemic, it defies logic that they would choose to do so as long as the additional federal payments are available. This is a classic government solution to a real world problem and problematic at many levels,” said House Speaker David Osborne. “The fact there are more than a hundred thousand available jobs, many of which already offer starting bonuses, should serve as plenty of incentive without a one-time payment. This is just another example of state government using taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers.”

To be eligible, applicants must be a Kentucky resident, be employed by a Kentucky business between June 24 and July 30 and have an active unemployment insurance claim as of June 23.

Employers will have to complete an online application confirming that employees accepted employment between June 24 and July 30. They must also verify that employees worked 120 hours in the four weeks following new employment.

A full outline of the criteria to qualify is available on the Back to Work Incentive website. The application will be available beginning Aug. 1.

The first 15,000 people to successfully qualify will be approved for a $1,500 taxable incentive. The last day to file an application for the Team Kentucky Back to Work Incentive is Oct. 1, 2021.

Administering the program and processing the applications will be the Public Protection Cabinet.