The state has set aside $50 million to help with hiring. The program was overwhelmed. And now business owners are frustrated.
Instead, he found he wouldn’t get a penny, even though he signed up in April. Since the program requires new recruits to stay for 60 days, Mackey waited to upload its first batch of applications. Too late: The program has been overwhelmed and is now closed. Mackey said he was told it would last until the end of the year.
“This grant was going to help us move faster and create more jobs, faster,” Mackey said. “Having these funds available to help with training has been an incredible gift. [But] we just didn’t hear anything from anyone until it was, “Sorry, you’re out of luck, you’re not getting money.”
Mackey is just one of many small business owners who have received this bad news over the past two weeks. The main culprit? Huge demand. Small business owner who found out she wouldn’t be reimbursed for signing bonuses for three new hires was informed by email by a HireNow coordinator that 13,000 hires had already been submitted, which would likely use up all the money. Another large group has been put on a waiting list, in case some applicants are deemed ineligible or state lawmakers approve more funding.
HireNow was launched in March, using money from the state’s share of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, to meet pressing demand from employers struggling to fill job vacancies. The objective was to facilitate the search for labor by reimbursing companies and associations for training costs or signing bonuses. Rewards were capped at $400,000 per employer (up to 100 new hires), for workers earning $85,000 or less.
From the Baker administration’s perspective, HireNow’s oversubscription is a sign of success: the program has helped spur the hiring of thousands of workers. Over 6,000 employers pre-registered and total funding requests exceeded $100 million, double what was allocated. In April, Governor Charlie Baker asked the Legislature for an additional $25 million, through his economic development bill. But neither the House nor the Senate included that money in their version of the bill, and the legislation remains in limbo at the State House.
Asked about the complaints, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development made this statement: “The administration launched the HireNow program to boost hiring in Massachusetts and… the program has encouraged the hiring of more than 11,000 employees with participating employers. . The administration was delighted that so many employers applied.
State officials say the program was announced on a first-come, first-served basis with limited funds. In some cases, employers were notified that applications for certain hires were approved while others did not meet the eligibility criteria or were placed on the waiting list. Due to the 60 day rule and verification requirements, there is a delay built into the deployment. So far, more than $3 million has been distributed, and more will be made available each week as more applicants are screened for eligibility. The administration said it would not release a list of recipients until the distribution is complete.
Several small business owners said they believed that because they signed up when the program launched, they were guaranteed to get the money they were looking for.
“I did everything in a timely manner as soon as possible,” said Artur Andronic, owner of Moldova restaurant in Newton. “It was a bit surprising that I was on the waiting list for more than half of my applications.”
Andronicus will not end up completely empty-handed. He said two of the six new hires he submitted had been approved, although one no longer works at the restaurant. He therefore currently expects to get $4,000 instead of the $20,000 he had hoped for, to reimburse his staff bonuses.
“I thought I had done everything right on my side, but apparently it wasn’t enough,” Andronic said.
Greg Reibman, president of the Charles River Regional Chamber, said the administration should have at least provided a running tally to give businesses an idea of where they stand. He said he actively encourages chamber members like Andronicus to participate and register quickly, knowing that money is limited. So it’s disappointing, Reibman said, that it took more than two months to find out they weren’t going to be reimbursed for the money they had already spent.
“They invested in good faith, they participated in good faith, and now they’re left at the altar,” Reibman said. “What I don’t know is if it was a bad concept or a bad execution. But it was probably both.
Chef Will Gilson said he knew he wanted to sign up for HireNow as soon as he heard about it, to help defray the cost of signing bonuses and training at his two Cambridge restaurants, The Lexington and Puritan & Co. said its staff had uploaded information on 21 hires at Lexington and 10 for Puritan, with emails to HireNow almost weekly to check on their status. He said it was difficult to get a meaningful response from HireNow coordinators.
Last week, Gilson learned he would get grants for seven hires at Lexington. Six others were on the waiting list, which means he is unlikely to be reimbursed for these. He’s still waiting to hear from Puritan.
“Anything we can do to compete in a tight job market, we’re going to take advantage of it,” Gilson said. “But it feels a bit like a bait and switch.”
As of now, it’s online for $28,000. But he’s not celebrating. Not yet.
“Until the check appears,” Gilson said, “I don’t believe it.”