Puerto Rico is offering a Return-to-Work Incentive Program, as are a number of states, including Kentucky, Arizona, and Maine.
The Return-to-Work Incentive Programs are intended to encourage American workers to return to the workforce at a time when many employers are having trouble filling positions. The funds are directed specifically toward people on unemployment benefits.
Federal pandemic unemployment programs will expire on September 6th, and many states have already withdrawn the extra payments offered under those programs, hoping that the lack of extra unemployment benefits will goad workers to return to their jobs. Puerto Rico’s Return-to-Work Incentive Program is available only to people who get back to work by September 4th in covered industries: hospitality, restaurants, agriculture, and construction.
$150 million available
The Island has a total of $150 million set aside for the program, divided as follows:
- $50 million for restaurants and bars
- $20 million for the hospitality industry
- $30 million for agriculture
- $30 million is available for construction
These industries are facing severe labor shortages across the nation.
Workers receiving unemployment compensation who accept a job by September 4th, 2021, will receive an initial direct payment of $500. Eligible individuals will receive a further $1,500 if they continue their new employment for 90 days.
Workers who stopped receiving unemployment compensation when they took a full or part-time job between July 1st and September 4th may apply for the Return-to-Work Incentive bonuses. Applications must be made through Puerto Rico’s Department of Treasury SURI after August 30th, 2021. Payments will be made between September 30th and December 31st, 2021.
Recipients must agree to return the funds if it is determined that they were not in fact eligible after receiving payments.
Need for incentives
Many Americans lost their jobs during the pandemic; estimates suggest that as many as 22 million jobs were lost as businesses closed down either temporarily or permanently.
As more people are vaccinated and fewer restrictions hamper businesses, companies have been reopening and calling workers to return to their jobs.
However, 8.4 million Americans are still receiving unemployment benefits, including 87,500 in Puerto Rico, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. States and territories alike want to move these people off the unemployment rolls and back to work.
Many people are still hesitant to return to their jobs because of fears of COVID-19. While Puerto Rico has higher vaccination rates than most States, workers in food service and hospitality may hesitate to return to work because of the high level of contact with other people required by those jobs.
Other workers have been hampered by the need to care for children who had not yet returned to school. These workers may be able to take jobs now. Caregivers for family members who are ill may not have been helped by the beginning of the school year, though.
Experts estimate that the U.S. construction industry is short one million workers, and agriculture has been facing a labor shortage for years. Surveys of hotels and restaurants in various States show that up to 100% are understaffed. Jobs in food service and hospitality in particular have become less desirable during the pandemic.