BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho residents on unemployment could receive a one-time bonus of up to $1,500 to return to work under a plan Gov. Brad Little announced Friday.
The Republican governor said the incentive is intended to help get the state's economy going again. Part-time workers would receive $750.
“Now is the time for us to provide Idahoans with the financial incentive to return to work and ensure our economic rebound is swift and robust,” Little said.
The state’s unemployment rate has rocketed to 11.5% with more than 100,000 unemployed. But Idaho is in the third stage of Little’s four-stage plan to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, and there are signs the economy is turning around. Nearly all businesses can now open under the guidelines.
Little said he’s concerned that enhanced unemployment benefits could add up to more than a potential worker could make going back to work. Through May 30, Idaho residents have received about $312 million in unemployment insurance benefits through federal and state programs.
Little said the incentive bonus payments made on a first-come, first-served basis could help persuade workers to return to the job.
“I think people are ready to go back to work,” Little said, but added that people need to feel safe returning. The virus “is not going to be eliminated until there is either a great treatment or most likely a vaccine. We have got to manage this.”
The money for the payments is coming from $100 million of the $1.25 billion Idaho received in federal rescue money.
Alex Adams, Little's budget chief, said the $100 million will likely only last long enough to cover incentive payments for about 70,000 workers. But Adams said the program could be supplemented with leftover money from a $300 million program to help Idaho small businesses.
Little has taken criticism from fellow Republicans following his March 25 stay-at-home order for Idaho’s 1.75 million residents as virus cases accelerated. Idaho’s economy began shutting down in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic appeared suddenly in the state and spread.
But state health officials say the virus is manageable at the moment based on various criteria having to do with infection rates and the availability of health care facilities to respond to a sudden outbreak.
If all goes well, stage 4 will start on June 13, with gatherings of more than 50 people allowed. But even in stage 4, precautions are included that limit occupancy in bars and require social distancing in theaters and other large venues.