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Montana to incentivize post-pandemic return to work

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A cattle drive proceeds in Montana.
Gov. Gianforte announced two measures to address the state’s severe workforce shortage.

Montana's Gov. Greg Gianforte on Tuesday announced the launch of a return-to-work bonus program while signaling the state will be the first in the nation to opt out of federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs.

With the use of federal coronavirus relief funds, $1,200 return-to-work bonuses will be paid to unemployed individuals who rejoin the labor force and accept and maintain steady employment for at least one month, according to the governor's office.

The bonuses will come as the Treasure State transitions to pre-pandemic unemployment insurance eligibility and benefits by the end of June.

Gianforte, a Republican, contends the moves will encourage workers to reenter the workforce and help ease a critical labor shortage across Montana.

“Montana’s unemployment rate is at just 3.8% – near pre-pandemic lows – and statewide there are record numbers of new job postings each week. But today, despite an influx of new residents into Montana over the last year, our labor force is some 10,000 workers smaller than it was before the pandemic,” Commissioner of Labor and Industry Laurie Esau said. “Our labor shortage doesn’t just affect employers and business owners. Employees who are forced to work longer shifts, serve more customers or clients, and take on more duties have been paying the price.”

Returning to normal

Specifically, Montana’s Department of Labor & Industry announced the following changes to the unemployment insurance (UI) program:

  • Starting June 27, 2021, claimants who have exhausted their traditional UI benefits but had continued to receive them through the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program will no longer be eligible for UI payments.
  • Beginning June 27, 2021 Montana will no longer be issuing supplemental $300 weekly payments to claimants under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program.
  • Beginning June 27, 2021, Montana will no longer participate in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. PUA presently provides benefits to the self-employed, the underemployed, independent contractors, and individuals who have been unable to work due to health or COVID-19 affected reasons. 
  • Starting June 27, 2021, Montana will no longer participate in the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) program, which offers supplemental payments to individuals who had both traditional W-2 income as well as self-employment income.
  • Requirements that claimants be able to work, available for work, and actively seeking work in order to be considered eligible for benefits will be reinstated effective June 27, 2021. These requirements had previously been suspended under emergency rule-making authority in March of last year. More information about work-search and “able & available” requirements is available in the UI Claimants handbook.

Unemployment insurance claimants will receive information soon about how these changes affect them individually, state officials said. Until then, claimants with questions about their future eligibility are encouraged to visit MontanaWorks.gov or contact the Department of Labor & Industry at 406-444-2545. Claimants receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) should contact 406-444-3382.

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