Return & Earn: New program from N.J. will financially incentivize return to workforce

Looking to spur employment in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the Return & Earn program Monday afternoon, an effort that gives financial incentives to both employers and those looking to join the workforce.

The program will pay employers up to $10,000 per employee in wage subsidies to hire and help train new employees with identifiable skills gaps — and up to $40,000 overall — to help with the cost of training new employees.

New employees would get a one-time supplemental payment of $500 in their first check — a bonus that is in addition to any potential hiring bonus the employer may have.

Eligible businesses must have 100 or fewer current employees, and the positions to be filled must pay at least $15 per hour. The program will be run by the Department of Labor & Workforce Development, which will provide additional details at a later date, Murphy said.

No start date was given for the program, which will be funded by federal money the state has received. Murphy said he views Return & Earn as a pilot program, one that will start with $10 million — with the ability to add it to if needed, he said.

“Return & Earn is a win-win solution,” Murphy said. “It will assist unemployed workers in their return to work. And it will help small businesses fill the positions they need to fill to grow, thrive and lead our economic recovery.”

For employers, the $10,000 wage subsidy is meant to help cover wages for a new employee for up to their first six months on the job. During this period, Return & Earn will reimburse employers for half of the wages paid for regular hours worked. The reimbursement will be valid whether this training occurs in-person at the job site or virtually.

Murphy said the program will help the state have a more equitable recovery — while hopefully helping to solve the hiring crisis.

“An inclusive recovery with broad and far-reaching impacts requires economic and workforce development strategies that address the needs of both workers and New Jersey’s businesses — most especially, the small businesses that are not just the cornerstones of our communities, but the backbone of our state’s economy,” he said.

That help goes to both sides, Murphy said.

“On the worker side, we recognize that we need to do a little more to help job seekers who are the most vulnerable, such as the long-term unemployed and those switching to new industries — regardless of whether or not their economic dislocation was due to the pandemic,” he said. “We recognize that we must have resources available and at-the-ready for workers to reconnect to work and overcome obstacles to gainful employment.

“Meanwhile, employers, especially small businesses, also face challenges in the recovery. They face a challenge in finding the workers they need and investing in training them — we know that, generally, job seekers have better outcomes in training programs that combine work and learning, but many small businesses, especially startups, simply do not have the resources to support new hires who need on-the-job training.”