Va. ‘Return to Earn’ program will match employer bonuses with federal aid; new hires could get up $1K in bonus

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday announced a new “Return to Earn” program in hopes of encouraging people to return to work.

The pilot program will match an employer bonus up to $500 with federal aid, meaning a new hire could get up to $1,000. That could come in a lump payment or installments to offset ongoing costs of child care, transportation, etc. Childcare businesses may qualify for up to $500 per new hire without the match requirement, Northam’s office says.

“For Virginia to fully recover from the impacts of the pandemic on our economy, we need targeted solutions,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Dr. Megan Healy. “One in three Virginia workers has applied for unemployment benefits over the course of the pandemic. The new Return to Earn Grant Program will accomplish a dual purpose of helping unemployed Virginians transition back into living wage jobs, particularly in the child care industry, and supporting small businesses with their hiring needs.”

Northam said $3 million in federal coronavirus aid was set aside for the program, which is for small businesses with 100 employees or fewer. Positions must pay at least $15 an hour and qualify as W-2 employment, either full- or part-time. That does include tipped employees, officials say.

With some employers having troubling finding workers, Northam hopes this program give potential employees the help they need to help with childcare and other variables that have kept people out of the workforce.

“Many Virginians who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic still face a variety of barriers to returning to work like access to affordable child care, transportation, and a living wage,” Northam said. “These bonuses will serve as an incentive for unemployed workers to get back into the workforce while also helping employers fill vacant jobs. The Virginia Return to Earn Grant Program is about empowering the true catalysts of our economic comeback—Virginia’s workers and small businesses.”

Meanwhile, those who are still having trouble finding a job, or those who can’t return to work such as COVID-19 long haulers, Virginia will continue to provide the $300 federal supplement through the American Rescue Plan until September 6.

Virginia did recently reinstate work search requirements for claimants to continue receiving payments following guidance from the Biden Adminstration.

Michael Mauch, who owns “Harvest” at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, says they’ve already considered offering hiring bonuses, so this may help attract more employees.

“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we’re closing at 3:30 because we don’t have enough staff and I don’t want to kill them,” Mauch said.

He’s short 25 employees and has had a hard time hiring.

“I believe that there’s a lot of money being doled out by the federal and state and we’re not just able to compete with somebody being able to stay home and collect instead of having to work and collect,” said Mauch.

Northam also headed to Woodside High School in Newport News on Friday to hold a ceremonial bill signing for legislation sponsored by Suffolk Del. Clint Jenkins (D) and State Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) creating cultural competency training for Virginia teachers. The effort seeks to change what critics have said is an outdated curriculum on African American history.

The legislation requires all teacher, principal and superintendent evaluations to consider cultural competency, and creates minimum standards for that competency. Any history teacher seeking a license would also need to have an endorsement in teaching African American history.

It comes after Virginia Commission on African American History Education found Virginia’s public schools weren’t doing a good enough job teaching Black history to students.

The commission called the teaching of Black history “incomplete” and “tainted with a master narrative that marginalized or erased the presence of non-Europeans from the American landscape.”

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