|A new $3 million investment to pilot the Return to Earn Grant Program recently announced by Gov. Ralph Northam will match payments from eligible small businesses to provide new hires with up to $1,000 to support their transition back into the workforce.
While many companies are offering hiring bonuses, the Return to Earn Grant Program will serve businesses with less than 100 employees that may not have the resources to provide this financial support. The initial launch of this program will be funded through Virginia’s federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) set aside and additional recovery funds may be allocated based on demand.
“Many Virginians who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic still face a variety of barriers to returning to work like access to affordable childcare, transportation, and a living wage,” said Northam. “These bonuses will serve as an incentive for unemployed workers to get back into the workforce while also helping employers fill vacant jobs. The Virginia Return to Earn Grant Program is about empowering the true catalysts of our economic comeback—Virginia’s workers and small businesses.”
The initiative will match up to $500 that a qualifying small business pays directly to a new employee hired after May 31, 2021, either as a lump sum or in installments to offset the ongoing costs of childcare, transportation, or other barriers to re-employment. Funds will only be reimbursed to businesses for new hires in positions that pay at least $15 per hour and that qualify as W-2 employment, either full- or part-time. To help address workforce shortages in childcare, qualifying childcare businesses may qualify for up to $500 per new hire without the match requirement.
“For Virginia to fully recover from the impacts of the pandemic on our economy, we need targeted solutions,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Dr. Megan Healy. “One in three Virginia workers has applied for unemployment benefits over the course of the pandemic. The new Return to Earn Grant Program will accomplish a dual purpose of helping” the unemployed “transition back into living wage jobs, particularly in the childcare industry, and supporting small businesses with their hiring needs.”
The program launch coincides with the reinstatement of the weekly work search requirement in Virginia, which started the week of May 31, 2021. Virginians receiving unemployment benefits must make contact with employers each week and accept reasonable offers of employment.
On June 1, the Commonwealth also reopened its Virginia Career Works Centers for in-person services to ensure that Virginians making the transition back to the workforce have access to the resources they need to find high-quality jobs. Jobseekers can continue to access resources virtually through the Virginia Career Works Referral Portal.
For additional information on requirements and to apply for Return to Earn grant funding, small businesses may contact their local Virginia Career Works Center.