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Governor McKee Signs Legislation Helping Rhode Islanders Get Back to Work

CUMBERLAND, RI Governor Dan McKee, joined by Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, Representative Carol Hagan McEntee and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, today signed into law legislation (H-6249A, S-0858aa) which will help get Rhode Islanders back to work. The legislation allows Rhode Island unemployment claimants to earn more, keep more, and stay connected to the Unemployment Insurance system while going back to work part-time, making it easier for them to transition back into the workforce as the State emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill-signing took place at Angelo's Palace Pizza in Cumberland and was attended by Mayor Jeff Mutter, Department of Labor and Training Director Matt Weldon, Rhode Island Hospitality Association President/CEO Dale J. Venturini, Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Liz Catucci, RI Small Business Coalition Co-Founder Chris Parisi, and local small businesses owners from across the state.

"Rhode Island is taking an innovative approach to getting people back to work that will benefit both employees and employers. Our team worked closely with the Department of Labor and Training and our colleagues in the General Assembly to use the federal $300 per week boost to our advantage to incentivize people to go back to work, maximize families' income, and help employers fully staff their businesses," said Governor Dan McKee. "Not only does the federal unemployment bonus provide much-needed support for Rhode Islanders who have been put out of work by the pandemic, these dollars flow right back into the state's economy and to our small businesses. There is no single answer to this nationwide workforce challenge, but this bill will be part of the solution."

The legislation would allow those receiving unemployment benefits to go to work and earn up to 150 percent of their unemployment insurance benefit amount not including any federal boosts before being cut off from unemployment. Currently, people lose unemployment once they earn more in wages than their state benefit. This is important because when people are ineligible to receive an unemployment payment, they are also cut off from the extra $300 per week federal boost. As long as they receive even a portion of their unemployment benefit, they also get the federal $300 boost.

The bill would also increase the amount people can earn before having their benefits reduced. Rhode Islanders would be able to earn up to half of their benefit amount before having any earnings subtracted from their unemployment benefits. Right now, the threshold is 20 percent, so someone with a $300 weekly benefit starts having their wages subtracted from it once they earn $60 a week. Under the bill, that person could earn up to $150 without having any impact on their benefits.

"I want to thank Director Matt Weldon from the Department of Labor and Training for listening to the needs of our small business community and balancing the financial needs of our workforce," said Lt. Governor Sabina Matos. "As the economy reopens fully today, our local businesses need to bring back their staff. By using this unique approach, our local businesses can meet their staffing needs. Yet, it also allows our workforce to continue to receive the added benefit of the $300 stimulus - that has been a lifeline for so many. In addition to Director Weldon, I want to thank Senator Goodwin and Representative McEntee for their leadership on this matter. Without them and the support of Speaker Shekarchi, Senate President Ruggerio, and Governor McKee, this would not be possible."

"Many businesses, especially in the service industries like hospitality, are now having trouble finding workers, even though our unemployment rate is still higher than usual. It's a nationwide issue, but in places like Rhode Island where the hospitality and restaurant industries are a significant portion of our economy, it's particularly concerning. We need those industries to be ready for a resurgence as people are vaccinated and go back to traveling this summer," said Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Senate bill sponsor. "We shouldn't say no to federal dollars that can also stimulate our state's economy and help the partially employed make ends meet, but we also should ensure that it's more rewarding to work than stay on unemployment."

"With the enactment of this bill, we are signaling to all of our struggling small businesses and workers that help is on the way. It will protect and support our small businesses while also allowing our workers to get back to their jobs without fear of losing the crucial benefits that have kept themselves and their families afloat during the pandemic. Rhode Island will become a national leader with a funded solution to a country-wide problem that so many are trying to solve, but more importantly, this bill will allow our small businesses and their workers to financially recover from the devastating year we have all experienced thanks to the pandemic," said Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), House bill sponsor.

"This bill is a win-win for both workers and businesses in Rhode Island. Unemployment benefits have provided an essential safety net for thousands of Rhode Islanders over the past year, and this bill will help them stay connected to the support system that unemployment provides while getting reconnected to the economy," said Department of Labor and Training Director Matthew Weldon. "I would like to thank our colleagues in the legislature for taking swift action on this important issue."

"The passing of this bill signifies the willingness of our state leadership to be creative as we address the workforce shortage our businesses are currently facing," said Dale J. Venturini, President/CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. "While there's more work to be done, we are appreciative of the collaborative efforts of my colleagues at the Governor's office, the House, the Senate and at the Department of Labor and Training. Our state's recovery plan is like a puzzle - it's not straightforward. As we continue to put each piece of the puzzle together, the picture of the future of our economy becomes more clear, and each industry plays a vital role in our recovery."

The legislation will also benefit businesses recovering from the impacts of the pandemic by incentivizing workers to take additional shifts and work more hours, because they would be able to keep some of their unemployment benefits.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, the $300 federal unemployment boost represents over $20 million in federal dollars coming into Rhode Island each week. These funds help stimulate the economy and provide much-needed support for Rhode Islanders who have been put out of work by the pandemic.

The changes will take effect May 23.

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