Maine Must Address its Labor Shortage

This week’s radio address features Sen. Jeff Timberlake

Hello, I am Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake.

Just north of Augusta there is a trucking company with a sign out front that reads “Hiring Truck Drivers: $20 an hour plus $5,000 signing bonus.”

This is a good example of the widespread impact the current labor shortage is having in Maine.

Unemployment payments were never designed to be a sustainable way of life. Unfortunately, too many people see it that way and it is having a terrible effect on Maine businesses and their employees.

Prior to the arrival of the pandemic and the spike in unemployment claims that followed, Maine had the “most generous” unemployment compensation in the nation.

Throughout much of 2020, unemployed Mainers receive 130% of the wage they had received before becoming unemployed. While well intentioned, this generosity has contributed to a very serious shortage of employees in Maine’s economy.

Currently, the Maine JobLink lists more than 14,000 available positions, the Department of Labor is paying jobless benefits to the same number of people.

As we head into the summer tourism season, this should be a concern to all of us.

More and more businesses across Maine are closing early or cutting back on the days they are open due to a lack of staff. Just as important, loyal, hardworking employees of small businesses in Maine are shouldering the burden by working longer hours to pick up the slack.

Currently, Maine, like most other states, is accepting a $300 weekly bonus payment from the federal government and passing it along to each person receiving unemployment compensation. However, in states where that bonus is contributing to crippling labor shortages, just as it is here, many governments have taken action.

Most notable is Montana, where they have rejected the federal money and, instead of paying people $300 per week to stay unemployed, have begun a program where they pay the same amount to people who go back to work and stay for four weeks.

There, $1,200 is paid in one lump sum at the end of the fourth week of re-employment.

As of today, there were 25 states that had opted-out of the federal bonus or were preparing to, including New Hampshire who is scheduled to drop the bonus beginning June 19.

The Maine Legislature needs to have a meaningful conversation about what we can do to address this serious problem. Last week, I submitted a bill to initiate that conversation; but Democratic leadership voted unanimously to kill the bill right at the start.

I also said during the meeting that I hoped Governor Mills would consider submitting a Governor’s bill to address the labor situation in Maine. This is such a critical problem that I hope partisanship can be set aside and all sides can work to address this emergency before we adjourn.

Again, I am Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake. Have a great weekend. Thank you

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