Business · California

Valley lawmakers call on Newsom to shift to back-to-work bonuses

Fresno-area state legislators are calling on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to put an end to pandemic-era unemployment benefits in an effort to bolster small businesses. 

The coalition of legislators joined with the Fresno Chamber of Commerce in the “Help Wanted California” effort, that is pushing for the state to allow the unemployment benefits to expire in September while creating new incentives for employees and small businesses to encourage a return to work. 

Senators Andreas Borgeas (R–Fresno), Melissa Hurtado (D–Sanger) and Anna Caballero (D–Salinas) signed the letter along with Assemblymembers Jim Patterson (R–Fresno) and Rudy Salas (D–Bakersfield). 

“Small businesses in the San Joaquin Valley and across the state are struggling to recruit and retain employees,” the letter reads. “Despite the return to in person consumer activity, businesses across the state are being forced to reduce services, curtail hours, burden their few existing employees, or, at worst, remain closed because they do not have a sufficient number of employees to keep their doors open.” 

The coalition said that there is no single cause to the current struggles that plague small businesses, but noted the efforts by small businesses to attract new hires. 

“In the last several months, the countless ‘Help Wanted’ signs in California store windows have taken on a dual meaning,” the letter reads. “In many cases, employers are even offering compensation above their pre-pandemic salaries to assuage barriers to returning to work. Our small businesses are desperately seeking workers, but they are also in dire need of policy relief.” 

Specifically, the coalition targeted the state’s $300 stimulus payment that has been added to weekly unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for driving “a wedge between businesses who desperately want to reopen the California economy.” 

This effort comes after the federal pandemic unemployment benefits expired on Sep. 4, leaving the decision to continue benefits up to each state. 

Colorado has initiated the “Colorado Jumpstart” program that gives unemployment claimants an incentive between $1,200 to $1,600 if they return to full-time work for a minimum of eight weeks. 

Oklahoma started its own program to provide $1,200 to people who return to work for at least 32 hours a week for six weeks. 

“Back-to-work incentives can be coupled with programs to offset the cost of childcare for returning workers, alongside programs to provide rental assistance to returning workers as effective incentives to encourage the unemployed to seek and accept available jobs in their community,” the letter reads. 

“At its best, the California business community is innovative, industrious, and inclusive. This fact is in large part due to a skilled, committed, and competitively compensated work force. The collaboration of small business owners, employers, and satisfied customers is key to a vibrant community.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.