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Idaho offers $1,500 bonuses to get people to return to work

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Can't rebuild the economy without workers

Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

How do you compete with the federal government's coronavirus unemployment plan that incentivizes people to stay unemployed?

Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little has an idea: Offer Idahoans a major "bonus" to get back to work.

What is Idaho doing?

When the U.S. Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the coronavirus relief bill, critics pointed out that one very significant provision in the bill could encourage people to remain unemployed.

The $2.2 trillion bill included a $250 billion expansion for unemployment benefits that not only extended the time workers could receive benefits from 26 weeks to 39 weeks, but also added $600 per week on top of what they would normally receive for up to four months.

That $600 per week in addition what a worker normally received — typically half of a worker's weekly wages — was what caught critics' eyes. They noted that the upgraded unemployment benefits would encourage people not to work because they would be making more on unemployment than if they returned to work. Those concerns turned out to be warranted, as one Washington state business demonstrated.

In order to encourage the Gem State's population to get back to work, Gov. Little said Friday that the state will use up to $100 million in federal relief funds to give onetime bonuses of $1,500 to full-time workers and $750 to part-time workers who return to work instead of remaining on unemployment, the Idaho Statesman said. Bonuses will also be available to laid-off workers who are already back on the job.

The plan to get people to choose work over inflated unemployment payments will cover up to 70,000 workers.

The Associated Press reported that the governor's budget chief, Alex Adams, said the bonus program could also be supplemented with unused money from a $300 million program set up to help small businesses in Idaho.

Little said about 60% of workers receiving unemployment benefits under the federal stimulus package are making more money on unemployment, but noted that that's no way to rebuild an economy.

"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.

Can it be done?

Critics of the move, however, say the governor is just adding another layer of bureaucracy to a state Labor Department that is already failing its citizens by mishandling unemployment claims.

The Statesman editorial board said that the state's "inability to provide unemployment benefits for thousands of Idahoans has become a disgrace." According to the paper, "an untold number of Idahoans are still without benefits" — and not only have many people not seen a check, some citizens still have not been contacted about their benefits status.

More from the Statesman:

Little began his press conference by expressing his concern that people who make more money on enhanced unemployment would have no incentive to go back to work.

So he announced that the state will offer $1,500 bonuses to unemployed Idahoans who return to work rather than stay on unemployment.

Gov. Little, this is the least of your problems. You've got a bigger one that's more immediate — that you need to take care of right now.

A go-back-to-work bonus payment will only add yet another layer of bureaucracy on top of a bureaucracy that's not working.

If the state can't efficiently get unemployment payments to all of its legitimate recipients, how does it plan to get $1,500 checks to full-time workers and $750 checks to part-time workers who return to jobs? And if Little and state officials think there won't be hangups in distributing that money to workers, then why are there still so many problems with distributing the unemployment money?

The paper further noted that the governor's plan includes bonuses for anyone who filed a claim since March 1, but the Labor Department has not yet even processed many of those claims.

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