When the New Jersey labor shortage went from bad to worse in the fall, the state created a program designed to help small businesses and coax workers back into the labor market.

The Return and Earn program, which offers smaller companies up to $10,000 in wage subsidies to hire and train new employees with identifiable skill gaps, and a $500 bonus for those new workers in their first paychecks, was hailed as an innovative way to boost the economy and get more people back to work. But the program, for unexplained reasons, has been a dud.

The $10 million dollar program, paid for with American Rescue Fund money, has only allocated about $1.4 million for training so far, and paid $86,000 in hiring bonuses to employees.

Michele Siekerka, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said “the program right now is woefully under-utilized, though we understand that many businesses have applied for it, and it appears that it’s just too prescriptive and a lot of companies are not eligible for it.”

Something is wrong

She said it’s become clear Return and Earn, which is meant to support companies with 100 or fewer employees, is not working the way it should be working
.
“Any time you have a program that looks like it’s not performing you should go back and look at some trends. Why are people not eligible? What’s causing people to be kicked out of the program and not able to take advantage of it?" she said.

“We would certainly welcome the opportunity to perhaps work with them on figuring out why this program is not working, and or whether or not a different program is needed.”

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NJ Labor Department mulling changes

Department of Labor spokeswoman Angela Delli Santi said “we are actively considering expanding the pool of eligible employers. There are ongoing discussions on how to best support employers and build participation.”

You can get more information about the Return and Earn program here.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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