FAIR LAWN – U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer says New Jersey should use some of its federal COVID recovery funds to pay $500 back-to-work bonuses for unemployed residents.

Gottheimer, a Democrat from Bergen County representing the 5th District, proposed the one-time incentive in an event at the Empress Diner in Fair Lawn that has gone from 20 employees to 12 since last year and has reduced its to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from round-the-clock.

“As we transition from pandemic life to normal life, like so many businesses, they aren’t able to find the staff, just yet, that they need to fully be operational,” Gottheimer said. “They will one day soon. Hope is on the horizon. But, for now, it’s a different story.”

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The state has received more than $6.2 billion in funds through the American Rescue Plan enacted in March. A plan for spending the money over the next few years hasn’t yet been developed and is among the topics being negotiated as part of the state budget process.

Gottheimer said the bonus should be available to workers who are currently unemployed but start a job by Aug. 1 and maintain it through at least Sept. 1. He said states including Connecticut and Colorado are currently implementing similar incentive programs.

“There are financial and logistical challenges stemming from the pandemic. It’s a transition. From childcare issues to transportation, obviously to ongoing health issues and school and taking care of family members who are sick, right?” he said. “I think we are all trying to figure everything out. This thing flipped quicker than any of us expected, which is good news. But I think we need time to transition, and I believe this $500 back-to-work bonus will help in that transition.”

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Gottheimer also sent a letter to state Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo requesting that the state begin enforcing the requirement that workers receiving unemployment benefits are actively searching for work. That was suspended in March 2020, when the pandemic began.

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