By B. Hamilton
This month’s jobs numbers report, showing a dismal 266,000 jobs added last month to the nation’s economy, has not surprised small business owners. School closures, erratic school schedules in states allowing students to return to the classroom, and nonstop unemployment benefits have kept potential employees home, studies show.
Just the day before the national numbers came out, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released its Jobs Report and its latest numbers confirm that there is a dearth of ready-to-work employees.
According to the NFIB report, a record 44% of all small business owners say they have job openings they could not fill, 22 points higher than the 48-year historical average, and two points higher than the 42% figure from March.
April is the third consecutive month with a record-high reading of unfilled job openings among small businesses, according to NFIB.
Even though most experts believe unemployment payments are suppressing the job pool, State Rep. David Cook of Globe has been pushing an increase in weekly benefits.
The federally-established Unemployment Insurance Benefits Program, administered by DES according to state law, provides unemployment benefits to persons unemployed through no fault of their own for up to 26 weeks and up to $540 per week or $2160 per month in untaxed paid benefit. During the COVID-19 crisis, beneficiaries did not have to prove they were actively looking for work.
That changed this week when Governor Ducey rescinded a March 2020 Executive Order that waived the requirement that an individual receiving employment benefits must be actively looking for work to receive the benefits.
Other governors are getting more aggressive in getting residents back to work. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, citing a workforce shortage, announced he will use funds from the American Rescue Plan to incentivize people to become employed.
“While small businesses are glad to see Gov. Doug Ducey re-instating the active work search requirement to qualify for continued state unemployment benefits, more work needs to be done to get able workers off the unemployment rolls and back into one of the many available jobs in the private sector,” said Chad Heinrich, NFIB’s Arizona state director in a press release. “With April also setting a new 12-month high in small businesses raising wages, and a full one-fifth of additional owners planning future wage increases, hopefully, the private sector will soon be able to compete with the overwhelming price the federal government is paying able-workers to sit on the sidelines.”
NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg says the “tight labor market is the biggest concern for small businesses who are competing with various factors such as supplemental unemployment benefits, childcare, and in-person school restrictions, and the virus. Many small business owners who are trying to hire are finding themselves unsuccessful and are having to delay the hiring or offer higher wages. Some owners are offering ‘show up’ bonuses for workers who agree to take the job and actually show up for work.”
On Friday, Ducey made a move to bring some relief on the childcare front by providing an additional $9 million in aid for child care providers throughout the state.
“Parents and families need access to safe, reliable, and high-quality child care, especially as Arizonans go back to work and job opportunities expand,” said Ducey. “With the additional funding announced today, we’re making sure more working families have access to that care. I’m grateful to all Arizonans working to ensure families and kids have the support and resources they need and am proud to celebrate Child Care Provider Appreciation Day.”
The CCWRR Grant Program provides immediate support to child care providers in hiring qualified staff and retaining existing staff. This grant program will help all regulated child care providers with recruitment and retention costs to support the child care workforce in Arizona. These funds are made available to Arizona through the Child Care and Development Fund CARES Act, 2020.
Child care centers and group homes must use grant funds for salaries and benefits for employees, and bonus incentives for hiring and retention. Group homes and family child care homes without staff, grant funds may be utilized for a variety of expenses including licensing fees, liability insurance, tuition and registration relief for families, lease and mortgage payments, utilities, classroom materials, and supplies.
While child care providers must apply and attest that they are open and providing child care services at the time of application and for the duration of the grant, grants are not competitive. Grant awards will be paid in one sum amount, with the distribution of payments initiated on June 24, 2021. Child care providers will have until September 30, 2021, to spend the grant funds.
In addition to the CCWRR Grant, the Department has also extended the Essential Workers Child Care Relief Scholarship through June 30, 2021, allowing essential workers and child care providers access to vital child care.