For hospitality sector crushed by hiring crisis, there’s big sigh of relief — and a little hope

NJRHA acknowledges unemployment bonus wasn’t only thing keeping workers away, but says it was a factor

When Dana Lancellotti got word that Gov. Phil Murphy was going to announce the state would not continue the $300 supplemental unemployment bonus, she admitted she breathed a small size of relief.

As head of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, she said the extra benefit has played a part — perhaps just a small part — in the industry’s struggle to find much-needed workers as it tries to rebound.

“This is a complicated issue,” she said. “We know people had to stay home for a number of reasons, including helping with remote learning and because of the lack of child care options. There were many factors here. So (the extra $300) was only part of the reason.”

That being said, it definitely was a factor, Lancellotti said.

“We know that, because workers specifically said that to our operators,” she said. “They would say: ‘I am comfortable with what I’m able to make right now. So, I’m going to continue to stay out.’”

Lancellotti said the industry is hoping this will create a much-needed spark in applicants.

The summer season may end on Labor Day, but the need for employees is as great as ever — especially with so many seasonal summer employees returning to school, Lancellotti said.

Gov. Phil Murphy, in making the decision, echoed Lancellotti’s feelings.

Murphy has long said the $300 was just a contributing factor to the hiring crisis, correctly noting that the states that eliminated the benefit early did not necessarily see a jump in job seekers.

The state has no choice but to let the benefit expire Sept. 4, Murphy said. Continuing it would cost the state more than $1 billion a month.

Whether it will mean a push for people to find work is the only thing left to be determined. Lancellotti certainly isn’t hoping that ending the bonus benefit will help.

“Our industry really needs people to come in and work,” she said. “And it’s not just the restaurants, it’s the hotels, too. We need the hotels to be staffed so that we can still accommodate travelers and we can bring corporate business back. And we can’t do that if we don’t have enough staff.”