bonus for work

Have you heard that some members of Congress want to bribe people to go back to work?

Seriously!

I read with amazement earlier this week a press release from the office of U.S. Rep. Tom Rice touting his role in supporting a bill that would provide up to a $1,200 bonus to get an unemployed worker back to work.

Known as the Reopening America by Supporting Workers and Businesses Act of 2021, the bill co-sponsored by Rice allows a bonus to those unemployed workers who accept a job offer.

“This will encourage Americans to get back to work quickly, help businesses recover, and get the economy moving again,” Rice said.

While I understand the flawed logic behind this bill, I remain appalled that the government must dangle a bonus, funded by taxpayer dollars, to get people back to work.

The recently-passed American Rescue Plan Act provided an extension of $300 per week in supplemental unemployment benefits through Sept. 6.

The largess means about 37% of people receiving unemployment benefits will get more money staying at home than they did on the job.

This disincentive to return to work is playing havoc with the local tourism industry, which desperately needs people to clean rooms, serve meals and work in many other different types of service jobs.

We received a letter from one motel manager who said she had to close a whole floor of the property because she could not hire enough housekeepers. That’s a common refrain as the tourism industry prepares to reopen after the crippling shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s not just a local problem.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses Research Center said that job openings in February reached an all-time record high as 40% of small firms have an open position that they aren’t able to currently fill.

During the height of the pandemic, when federal mandates forced thousands of businesses to shut their doors, it seemed only fair to provide workers with a stipend to weather the economic crisis.

Originally, unemployed workers received $600 per week in benefits, and when that program expired Congress voted to extend the benefit through the summer months at $300 per week. This is in addition to state unemployment payouts.

As I wrote earlier, the bill co-sponsored by Rep. Rice has a serious flaw.

The bill would provide a $1,200 hiring bonus, which is equivalent to four weeks of ramped-up unemployment benefits.

This may appeal to some people who have a strong work ethic and who want to get back to work.

But for the vast majority, it makes more sense economically to stay on the unemployment rolls through Sept. 6. They can take a long summer vacation at taxpayer expense.

Instead of paying people to get back to work, I would be in favor of giving them a choice.

If a business provides a bona fide offer to a former employee to return to work at the same or higher pay scale, then the employee must either accept the offer or lose unemployment benefits.

It was fair to pay people displaced by the pandemic unemployment benefits.

By the same token, it seems only fair for them to come off of unemployment when businesses reopen and need their help.

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Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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