Mills Administration Announces “Back To Work” Program To Help Unemployed Maine People Rejoin Workforce

As Maine continues its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mills Administration today unveiled a new program aimed at getting unemployed Maine people back into the workforce.

The “Back to Work” program, administered by the Maine Department of Labor and the Department of Economic and Community Development, will provide employers a one-time $1,500 payment for eligible workers who start jobs between June 15 and June 30 or a $1,000 payment for eligible workers who start jobs in July to encourage unemployed Maine people to return to the workforce. The first-come, first-served program will utilize $10 million in Federal funding and could reach up to 7,500 Maine people.

The program comes as Maine’s economy continues to recover from the pandemic, with the state having added 11,200 jobs during the first quarter of 2021 and overall unemployment claims steadily declining. As employers across Maine seek workers, the program aims to accelerate the transition of unemployed Maine people back into the workforce and help businesses recover from pandemic-related business disruption. The program complements the Mills Administration’s ongoing work to provide COVID-19 vaccines, job development opportunities, and affordable child care to job seekers to ease the transition back into the workforce.

“We have worked hard over the last fifteen months to get the pandemic under control so that it’s safe for everyone to return to work. Now COVID cases are down, vaccines are widely available, and jobs are plentiful,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Employers across the state are looking to staff up, which means there are opportunities for everyone to work, earn a living and contribute to our state’s economic recovery. With this new program, we are providing another tool to accelerate peoples’ transition back into the workforce, protecting their health and their long-term financial stability.”

“This program will help bring Mainers back into the workforce and advance our economic recovery efforts,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. “With employers looking for workers, we are hopeful this program can help job seekers more easily rejoin the workforce.”

“We recognize that as the economy continues to improve, there are still barriers preventing some Mainers from going back to work and we want to help get them back to work,” said Laura Fortman, Commissioner of the Department of Labor. “With this new program, we now have another avenue of helping individuals overcome those barriers and rejoin the workforce while also supporting businesses’ hiring endeavors.”

To be eligible, people must:

  1. Have received unemployment compensation for the week ending May 29, 2021;
  2. Accept a full-time job that pays less than $25 per hour and remain in the job for a period of at least eight consecutive weeks, and;
  3. Not receive unemployment compensation during the eight week period of employment.

The program begins tomorrow – June 15, 2021 – and applications will be accepted through July 25, 2021. Later this week, the Maine Department of Labor will launch an online portal on its website where businesses can confirm employees qualify and register their start dates. Once the employee has worked for eight weeks, the employer will provide documentation of the completion of the requirement and grant funds will be issued to the employer to be passed through to the employee.

“Maine’s hiring crunch is one of the biggest challenges facing employers across the state right now and is an impediment to our pandemic recovery,”said Dana Connors, President and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “The Governor’s initiative is the right strategy at the right time to help get Maine people back to work, businesses back in full operation, and Maine’s economy fully back on track.”

“Everywhere I go, I see 'now hiring' signs at retailers of all sizes. There are millions of people ready to visit Maine this summer and we need our retail, tourism and hospitality businesses ready to deliver the world-class customer service that we are known for. This program will be a huge help,” said Curtis Picard, President and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine.

“After a challenging year, small employers are getting back up on their feet and looking to hire hardworking Maine people and pay them good wages in rewarding jobs,” said David Clough, Maine State Director for NFIB. “To fully recover, they need employees and I am hopeful that the Governor’s program will be a benefit to small businesses and boost optimism going forward.”

The program comes after the Maine Department of Labor tightened work search requirements for unemployment insurance recipients on May 23, 2021, reinstating pre-pandemic requirements. People receiving unemployment are required to actively look for work and to accept positions for which they are reasonably qualified. A refusal to accept an offer of suitable work is grounds for disqualifying a person for benefits.

The Department’s regional CareerCenters stand ready to assist people to connect with jobs by hosting job fairs, offering job workshops and reemployment services.