Sun shines on the U.S. Capitol dome Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch on Tuesday introduced legislation allowing states to give workers bonuses if they forego unemployment assistance and return to work.

The Back to Work Bonus Act would allow states to use Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to provide up to $1,200 bonuses for Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits that return to work. The bill is meant to “counteract” enhanced federal unemployment benefits enacted by the American Rescue Plan, which provided $300 per week in benefits to unemployed Americans through September, said a news release.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little last year launched a back-to-work bonus program using federal coronavirus relief funds.

“The economy is showing strong signs of recovery, and a record number of Americans are being vaccinated each day,” Crapo, a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. “However, a growing economy requires a willing and able workforce, and many small businesses are having trouble competing with enhanced unemployment benefits. A back-to-work bonus provides an incentive to return to work safely, and will help to accelerate our economic recovery. The federal government should leverage Idaho’s experience in getting employees safely back to work, and I applaud Governor Little for his leadership on this issue.”

Little in June unveiled Idaho’s program, which gave $750 to part-time workers and $1,500 to full-time workers who returned to work. Idaho has provided more than $36.5 million in back-to-work bonuses to employees at businesses operating in Idaho — the state allocated $100 million in coronavirus relief funds for the program. The top five businesses receiving the largest sums include:

  • McCain Foods USA, the Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois-based food supplier with facilities in Fruitland and Burley: $480,000
  • Saint Alphonsus Health System, the Boise-based health care provide: $443,250
  • Basic American Foods, the Walnut Creek, California-based food supplier with facilities in eastern Idaho: $423,017
  • Sinclair Services Company, the Salt Lake City-based petroleum seller with locations across Idaho: $355,250
  • Hagadone Hospitality, a division of the Coeur d’Alene-based Hagadone Corporation which operates hotels in North Idaho: $288,318

“Idaho was the first state to boldly implement Back to Work incentives during the most difficult months of the pandemic,” Little said in the release. “The Return to Work bonuses are based on a fundamental conservative principle — we do not want people on unemployment. We want people working. A strong economic rebound cannot occur without workers returning to a job, and the Return to Work cash bonuses counteract the federal payouts and incentivize our workforce to get back to work safely.”

The federal bill says states could give $600 to part-time workers and $1,200 to full-time workers who return to work by July 1.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, introduced identical legislation, the Reopening America by Supporting Workers and Businesses Act of 2021, in the House.

Ryan Suppe is the Boise City Hall and Treasure Valley business reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-344-2055 (ext. 3038). Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.