Jobless Mainers could be paid up to $1,500 each by the state to take one of thousands of positions that remain open as Maine’s labor market continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Employers can get a $1,500 payment to pass on to each eligible worker who starts a job between June 15 and the end of the month. Workers who start jobs in July could be in line to get $1,000.

The first-come, first-served program is funded with $10 million in federal funding and could reach 7,500 Mainers, Gov. Janet Mills’ administration said in a news release Monday.

Maine will join other states that have been offering bonuses to get workers back into the labor force. Maine also continues to offer a federally funded, weekly $300 unemployment payment that some Republican-controlled state governments have ditched in an effort to get more people back into jobs.

“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,” Mills said in a statement. “With this new program, we are providing another tool to accelerate people’s transition back into the workforce, protecting their health and long-term financial stability.”

To receive the hiring bonus, workers need to have received unemployment pay for the week ending May 29, accepted a full-time job paying less than $25 an hour and stay on the job for at least eight weeks without collecting unemployment.

Employers will document eligible workers and verify their employment. The bonus will be issued to employers, who will then pay the workers. Maine reinstated standard unemployment work search requirements in May, which means those receiving jobless benefits must take a job if offered or risk losing them.

Some employers welcomed the bonuses, but recognized that Mills’ approach may not be the silver bullet that solves their staffing challenges.

“I have to think it is going to at least give us an upper hand getting some people back into this workforce,” said Tina Hewett-Gordon, general manager of the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. The resort is hiring for about 60 positions, mostly in housekeeping and the kitchen.

Increased unemployment pay could be keeping some workers on the sidelines, Hewett-Gordon said. But other issues such as unaffordable coastal housing, limited public transportation, inadequate child care and intense competition amid a cutback in foreign student labor, created a perfect “Bermuda triangle” for the seasonal labor market, she said.

“We lost so many of our employees last year – fast forward 15 to 16 months, (and) here we are with three times as much business and we simply don’t have the people to help service events or clean rooms,” Hewett-Gordon said.

More than 38,000 Mainers were collecting weekly jobless benefits from state and federal programs in the first week of June. About two-thirds of those were enrolled in federal programs for self-employed or contract workers ineligible for state unemployment benefits, or those whose first round of benefits expired.

The number of Mainers remaining on jobless aid has trended downward this year, and the state created about 11,200 jobs in the first four months of 2021.

But many of those remaining on state unemployment came from the same sectors – such as restaurants and hotels – that are now clamoring to hire enough workers for the busy summer ahead.

In April, more than 6,300 workers collecting unemployment benefits were formerly employed in the accommodation and foodservice industries, almost 23 percent of all jobless workers.

The Kennebunkport Resort Collection, a group of nine hotels and attached restaurants, is also hiring for about 60 empty culinary, housekeeping and front desk jobs, said Managing Director Justin Grimes.

“I do think the program will help motivate folks; my concern is that people are not coming out for jobs,” Grimes said. “Anything will help at this point, any incentive to get back into the workforce will help us.”

The company has had a tough time hiring high school and college students for peak-season jobs and is even challenged to fill salaried, benefitted, year-round chef and sous chef positions.

“Housekeeping has always been challenging, but these culinary roles are really excellent jobs and ones we typically see candidates for,” Grimes said. “I think COVID-19 did enough to cause people to reconsider their career path and get into an industry that is less fragile. It has just been enough to nudge people out of hospitality.”

At least 25 states led by Republican governors, including New Hampshire, have or plan to cancel a $300-per-week enhanced weekly unemployment payment passed by Democrats and President Biden this spring. Business groups and conservative politicians blame those benefits for paying people more to not work than they could earn at a job. Economists have found little evidence that unemployment pay keeps people out of the labor force.

Some states, including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan and New Hampshire, have offered incentive payments to encourage people to take work.

If employers use the money to recruit workers, they will have to prove to the state that they have paid the bonus, said Jessica Picard, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Labor.

The hiring bonus is meant to help address issues such as transportation and child care that may hold people back from taking a job, Picard said.

“The payment is intended to help provide a potential bridge of those barriers to help job-seekers gain longer-term financial stability and employers gain employees,” she said.

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