Montana only paid 3,000 back-to-work bonuses

The return-to-work incentive program proposed by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte in May will likely have paid out $ 1,200 in bonuses to around 3,000 people by the end of its life in January, the return to work program said. Ministry of Labor and Industry officials week, only a quarter of the 12,000 people the state once planned to pay.

The program, which Gianforte launched on the same breath as he ended Montana’s participation in federally-funded enhanced unemployment benefits, aimed to bring workers with active unemployment claims into the labor market with bonuses paid during the fourth week of employment in a new job.

The eligibility period ended in October, with officials acknowledging the slow pace and allocating much of the funding to other programs, but the state still had the rest of the year to pay claims and respond. to questions with requests.

Now, at the end of the year, the DLI reports that it is likely to spend around $ 3.6 million on incentive payments out of the $ 15 million that state officials initially set aside. .

“We have absolutely served fewer people than expected,” said Scott Eychner, administrator of DLI’s Workforce Services Division, at a meeting of an interim legislative budget subcommittee. this week. “I wouldn’t call it a failure, it’s really just a reality check.”

DLI received approximately 6,300 requests over the course of the program, with the majority either being denied (approximately 1,600 as of December 17) or pending (approximately 1,800). And of the outstanding requests, Eychner said, about 1,500 are from those who filed a request but never followed up with the ministry. DLI is making a final round of engagement to get in touch with these people, Eychner said, but if they fail, those will also be considered denials. Only around 300 pending requests are currently under review.

For the most part, according to the DLI, bonus recipients have accepted jobs that paid $ 20 an hour or less.

The number of unemployed Montanais is around 15,400, Gianforte said this week, touting an unemployment rate of 2.8%.

Montana was the first state to withdraw from the federally funded Enhanced Unemployment Insurance program, which added $ 30o per week to basic unemployment benefits for Unemployment Insurance recipients. Gianforte argued that the benefits were contributing to a labor shortage, although critics attacked the decision as leaving federal dollars on the table.

Likewise, Gianforte reinstated the requirement that UI claimants actively seek work and introduced the return to work program. The decision also had the effect of ending Montana’s participation in various other federal pandemic unemployment programs, such as pandemic emergency compensation.

To qualify for the one-time premium of $ 1,200, a person had to be unemployed as of May 4 and then take a job in any industry for at least four weeks. Most of the 1,600 rejections were for applications that did not meet basic criteria, Eychner said – they were not unemployed within the program’s time horizon, for example, or they found a job outside of the program. ‘State.

In addition, he said, the ministry has learned that some are unable to work due to difficulties in finding housing or childcare, for example.

The ministry will release a full report on the program in January.

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