Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Friday that the state will offer $1,500 bonuses to unemployed Idahoans who return to work rather than stay on unemployment, where many of them collect bigger checks than their jobs pay.
“A strong economic rebound cannot occur without workers returning to a job, and the new Return to Work cash bonuses incentivize our workforce to get back to work safely,” Little said in a statement.
Little’s plan includes one-time cash bonuses for up to 70,000 workers of $1,500 for full-time workers and $750 for part-timers. The money will be given after they return to work. Laid-off workers already back on the job will be eligible, too.
The bonuses will be financed with up to $100 million in federal relief funds, and they will be available to Idaho workers already deemed eligible for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.
Here is what is known about the bonus so far:
Why is Little doing this?
The goal is to compete with the powerful combination of Idaho’s existing unemployment compensation program plus the $600 weekly supplemental payments Congress approved in March as part of its $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief law. The combined payments mean many workers are making more money while unemployed than they earned on their jobs.
Up to 60% of unemployment-compensation recipients nationally are in that camp, Little said at a news conference on Friday.
The $600 supplements will expire July 25, though some Democrats in Congress want it extended.
Details for applying weren’t available Friday. The Idaho Workforce Development Council will discuss the plan next week. Information on eligibility and how to apply for the Return to Work bonuses is expected to be available by Monday, June 15, on the Rebound Idaho website.
Employees must return to work by July 1 to be eligible. The program would require employees to work for four straight weeks to receive the bonus, so the program would end July 31, Marissa Morrison Hyer, Little’s spokesperson, said by email.
The bonuses will be retroactive for workers who were laid off and have already returned to work, Little said.
Laid-off workers who found a job with a different employer would also be eligible, Morrison Hyer said.
If I apply, will I give up my unemployment compensation and the supplement?
Not for any weeks for which you have made unemployment-compensation claims that the state has deemed legitimate.
Little said workers will not lose any unemployment compensation for which they have qualified, even if they haven’t yet been paid because of the state’s continuing backlog of applications that have raised eligibility questions. The backlog has left thousands of laid-off Idaho workers without income for weeks as bills mount.
“They’ll get both,” the governor said.
But you would not continue to receive payments for future weeks once you go back to work.
What if I would make more staying on unemployment?
You may want to do your own math, considering that the $600 supplements are set to expire in seven weeks and you must be back at work in 3-1/2 weeks to get the bonus.
“We’re putting this out as bait to keep the economy going,” Little said at the news conference.
However, there may be limitations on your ability to stay unemployed and keep collecting unemployment payments once your employer calls you back to work. Details were not immediately known Friday.
The coronavirus-related job losses since March are unlike most traditional job cuts, because most of them involve workers whose employers expected to hire them back sooner or later.
The state’s basic, regular unemployment benefit ranges from $72 to $448 per week, depending on how much you earned while employed. The $72 is for a full-time, minimum-wage worker. The $448 maximum is based on Idaho’s median wage.
Once you qualify for regular unemployment, you receive the $600 per week along with your regular unemployment payments no matter how much or how little you made before your layoff. The $600 benefit is retroactive to March 29 for workers already laid off by then.
What if the money runs out?
The state could supplement funding for the bonuses if there is money leftover from $300 million in grants previously earmarked for small businesses affected by the pandemics.
Idaho’s unemployment rate ballooned to 11.5% in April, with more than 100,000 people out of work.
The Idaho Stateman’s business editor, David Staats, contributed.