New Jersey offers wage subsidies, signing bonuses in bid to fill jobs

By: - September 28, 2021 6:53 am

A Belleville tire service station is one of countless businesses seeking help. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

In its latest bid to jumpstart the state’s stalled economic recovery, New Jersey will offer wage subsidies to certain small businesses and signing bonuses for unemployed people re-entering the workforce, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

The new program, dubbed “Return and Earn,” makes businesses with fewer than 100 employees eligible to receive up to $10,000 from the state in wage and job-training subsidies per eligible employee and prospective employees at those businesses eligible for a $500 signing bonus on their first paycheck.

“We know that there are good jobs out there just waiting to be filled. Our hope is ‘Return and Earn’ will make it easier and faster for employers to connect with potential employees,” he said.

The business subsidies will be capped at $40,000 per business. They must also provide job training that awards skill badges or industry-recognized certificates.

The new hires must earn at least $15 an hour to be eligible for subsidies. New Jersey’s $12-per-hour minimum wage is set to increase to $15 in 2024.

The $500 perk is in addition to any signing bonus offered by the employer.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate fell to 7.2% this month, from 7.8% in January, but the figure is still close to double the 3.8% unemployment rate the state recorded last March, just days before New Jersey identified its first case of COVID-19.

Monday’s announcement got a warm reception from the state’s business community.

“We’ve been asking for back-to-work bonuses. We’ve been asking for workforce developer dollars, and these help to provide both,” New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken said. “From our standpoint, it’s nice to see that at least some of the things we’ve been asking for he’s listening to. Let’s just hope there’s more.

Murphy called Return to Earn a pilot program, suggesting it could receive a funding boost if proven successful, but the timing of any further appropriations is unclear.

The $10 million program is being funded using federal aid made available through the American Rescue Plan. More costly relief using federal funds likely won’t come for months.

Language in the annual budget lawmakers approved in June provided the governor with a $200 million pot of federal money to draw from, but each eligible program cannot receive more than $10 million in American Rescue Plan money without legislative approval.

The Joint Budget Oversight Committee is responsible for approving the additional spending, and it has no meetings planned before November.

“The need is much greater than that. Much greater,” Bracken said. “I’m pleased he’s doing it, and it’s hopefully the beginning of more.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.