Looking to help address the labor shortage in the Garden State caused by the coronavirus pandemic, state officials announced a plan to help employers lure back residents to the workforce with federal money.
The announcement of the program came the day before the New Jersey passed 1 million confirmed cases and 150,000 probable cases of COVID since March 2020.
The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) will begin implementation of the Return and Earn program, a new initiative that will provide a $500 incentive for unemployed workers reentering the workforce and receiving job training from businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
“The pandemic may have put our workers through the ringer, but this administration is prepared with the tools to get every Garden State worker back on track and earning a steady income,” pledged NJDOL Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo in a press statement.
Facilitated by NJDOL’s Business Support Unit, Return and Earn will piggyback off the state’s existing On-the-Job Training infrastructure to provide wage reimbursement support to New Jersey employers that hire eligible applicants with identifiable skills gaps. Employers will be reimbursed for 50% of the wages paid for regular hours worked during the contracted employer-provided training period.
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“Throughout this pandemic, I have heard much about the issues facing small businesses and the dedicated, hard-working men and women who enable their success,” said Gov. Phil Murphy at a press briefing. “Our administration is committed to assist businesses in hiring workers, while providing benefits to those entering and re-entering the workforce that will set them up for success in their new jobs and their future careers.”
Employers can receive the wage subsidy for up to six months, up to the cap of $10,000 per Return and Earn employee and are limited to a total subsidy across all employees of $40,000.
NJDOL is currently working on the execution of this program, including developing a streamlined online application process. The general process and eligibility criteria are as follows:
- NJDOL will work with employers to identify prospective candidates for available positions.
- The employer will provide substantive on-the-job training at their location or, depending on circumstances, utilize approved virtual training that results in skill badges or industry-recognized credentials.
- Eligible applicants are private and not-for-profit employers with up to 100 full-time employees.
- Candidates must be New Jersey residents working full-time (minimum 32 hours per week).
“This program will help both businesses and their workers, and is yet another step that we have taken to boost our economy,” said Murphy.
Additionally, Murphy promoted that many workers will be eligible for supportive services like childcare and transportation reimbursement, which have been barriers for many re-entering the workforce.
Eye on Small Businesses
The Return and Earn program is being executed in collaboration with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the Office of Innovation, and is part of the Murphy Administration’s whole-of-government approach to support the business community and its workers.
New Jersey job seekers can visit CareerServices.nj.gov for help finding gainful employment opportunities and offers programs for job search help. Additionally, NJDOL offers free online training courses through Metrix Learning. Courses are offered in a variety of high-demand industry sectors, including information technology, business analysis, customer service, project management, and digital literacy.
Lauded by State, Federal Lawmakers
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) backed Return and Earn as a program key to addressing current staff shortages and preparing workers for a successful transition back into employment.
“The pandemic has changed the workplace as we knew it and more must be done to reinforce New Jersey’s workforce now,” stated Wimberly. “Ensuring that small businesses have the employees they need with the proper training necessary is vital to our economic recovery. We’re supporting New Jersey small businesses and families through these opportunities.”
This initiative is similar to one Rep. Josh Gottheimer proposed back in June to create a one-time $500 incentive for residents who are newly hired, which will be included in their first paycheck.
“It’s absolutely essential to connect unemployed Jersey workers with businesses in need and encourage workers to return,” said Gottheimer. “This new initiative is a fantastic step to help both our unemployed residents and local businesses, and I’m glad to see that the Garden State is working to implement a back-to-work incentive program.”
Business Community Support
Besides state lawmakers and Murphy administration officials, key businesses associations such as the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association are supporting the plan.
“The Return and Earn program represents the beginning of an opportunity to provide job training while helping employers incentivize workers to come back to the workplace,” said Michele Siekerka, President & CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “This program is a good start to address the workforce challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and we look forward to working toward continued holistic approaches to further address the future of work in New Jersey.”
President and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey John E. Harmon, Sr., added “It’s a good use of funds to help address the labor shortage that has adversely impacted our small businesses during the pandemic while providing training to individuals whose skill sets need retooling. The program is a win-win for both employers and employees and will improve the overall competitiveness of our state.”
American Rescue Plan Funding
This $500 incentive and training subsidy will be funded by $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Additional related supportive services will be funded by Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds.
“The NJ Chamber is gratified that the Governor has responded to our requests that more American Rescue Plan dollars be invested in the state’s business community to help accelerate our economic recovery,” said Tom Bracken, President and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “The “Return and Earn” program not only provides financial incentives for workers to return to the workforce, it provides crucial skills training that can result in longer-term employment and more opportunity for these workers.”
“This program will utilize federal investment we passed in Congress from the American Rescue Plan,” added Gottheimer. “As we continue the transition from pandemic life to normal life, it’s essential that we help businesses find employees and help Jersey residents get back to work. We must get our state fully back on track.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 11,627,031 in-state, plus an additional 431,3211 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 12,058,352 as of Sept. 28. Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,655,569 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 185,252 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 5,840,821. Additionally 108,397 have received a third booster
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,297,918 doses (631,663 fully vaccinated), Essex 1,009,864 doses (485,160), Hudson 913,967 doses (440,074), Morris 703,468 doses (341,409), Passaic 627,176 doses (303,011), Sussex 165,742 doses (81,996), and Warren 108,398 doses (53,210).
As of Sept. 28, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,000,067 with 1,857 total new PCR cases. There were 465 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 150,000. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,500,067.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 37 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 24,593. The state listed probable deaths at 2,787, bringing the overall total to 27,380. State officials noted 11 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Sept. 28, Bergen had a total of 123 new confirmed cases and 38 new probable cases, Essex 129 new cases and 15 new probable case, Hudson 74 new cases and 18 new probable cases, Morris 76 new confirmed cases and 18 new probable cases, Passaic 78 new cases and 15 new probable cases, Sussex 36 new cases and 16 new probable cases, and Warren 25 new cases and four new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,810, followed by Bergen at 2,647, Hudson with 2,143, Passaic at 1,781, Morris at 1,019, Sussex at 251, and Warren County at 225.
In regards to probable deaths reported Sept. 27, Essex has 311, Bergen has 306, Morris has 265, Hudson has 222, Passaic has 206, Sussex has 68 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,421.060 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Sept. 13, 25,991 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 537 COVID-related hospitalizations and 126 COVID-related deaths. All those are less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Sept. 7-Sept. 12, breakthroughs accounted for 22.8% of all new cases (2,449 of 10,760), 3.7% of new hospilizations (32 of 863), and two of the 55 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Sept. 28, it declined to 0.99 from 1.01 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Sept. 23 was 4.6%; by region, the rate was 4.1% in the North, 5.2% in the Central region and 4.9% in the South.
The state reported 1,067 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 353 in the North, 355 in the Central and 359 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 224 are in intensive care units and 118 on ventilators. A total of 74 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, the state has tracked 44 school outbreaks and 214 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 21 outbreaks and 112 cases from the week previous. Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the weekly update as of Sept. 28, Essex County has three confirmed outbreak with 15 cases, Bergen County has one confirmed outbreak with four cases, Sussex has one confirmed outbreak with one case, Morris County has two confirmed outbreaks with eight cases, Hudson County has two confirmed outbreaks with nine cases and Essex County has one confirmed outbreak with 50 cases. No outbreaks were reported in Warren County.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 153 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,165 of the cases, broken down between 632 residents and 533 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,719 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 33,621 residents and 22,929 staff, for a total of 56,582.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,540 on Sept. 28. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,955 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.