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Gov. Little unveils $100 million program for back-to-work bonuses for Idaho employees

A worker on unemployment who returns to full-time work would receive a one-time bonus of $1,500, while someone who returns to part-time work would get $750.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Friday announced a new $100 million program that will pay Idaho workers directly to return to their jobs.

Under the program, a worker on unemployment who returns to full-time work would receive a one-time bonus of $1,500, while someone who returns to part-time work would get $750.

About 70,000 Idahoans will be served under the program on a first-come, first-serve basis, officials say, although the state is considering tapping into unused money from the small business grants program to pay out the bonuses to even more people.

The governor said the expanded payments offered under unemployment - an extra $600 per week - has resulted in "hesitancy" among employees mulling whether to return to their jobs. About 60 percent of Americans currently make more money on unemployment than they did at their previous job, Little noted.

"It was just this big incentive for them not to go back to work," he said.

RELATED: Unemployment rate falls to 13.3% as US adds 2.5 million jobs in May

The bonuses are designed to motivate employers to reopen while making it financially feasible for their workers to come back as early as possible, the governor said. 

Federal dollars earmarked for the coronavirus pandemic will provide the $100 million to pay for the program.

Little said Idahoans have filed more than 145,000 unemployment claims in the last 11 weeks - nearly two-and-a-half times as many claims filed in all of 2019.

"My heart goes out to all those who lost jobs or income during this global pandemic," he said. "Despite the hardship, we are better off in Idaho than elsewhere."

RELATED: Idaho Department of Labor catches up on backlog with new call center: 'There is a lot of pent up demand'

Idaho was one of the last states with a confirmed case of COVID-19, and one of the first with a tiered plan to reopen, the governor noted. Idaho is currently in Stage 3 of the plan, and will move forward into the final stage of reopening in mid-June, barring a major uptick in virus cases.

Little said that although the shutdown of the state took a toll on businesses and individuals, it was necessary to flatten the curve of infection. 

"The no-action alternative would have been catastrophic," the governor said. "Our collective efforts worked and continue to work. Idahoans have done a tremendous job protecting themselves and their neighbors."

Officials are still hammering out details about eligibility and how to apply for the back-to-work bonuses. Those guidelines will be available on the Rebound Idaho website by June 15. 

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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