Emergency funds recommended to recruit health workers

HELENA, Mont. (AP) – A commission created to allocate federal COVID-19 relief funding to help stabilize Montana’s economy on Wednesday recommended that the governor allocate $ 4 million to help recruit new medical workers in the state. But members rejected a proposal to spend $ 13 million in retention bonuses for existing hospital workers.

The Healthcare Worker Recruitment Program would allow healthcare providers to cover up to $ 12,500 in moving costs for new hires, as well as another up to $ 4,300 to cover taxes on this. payment, said Scott Mendenhall, the new director of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act. .

“We’ve had great feedback from employers in the healthcare industry who say it would be much appreciated and needed to perhaps alleviate some of the concerns we have in this industry in particular,” Mendenhall said.

The program could recruit 238 more medical workers in the state, which has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases since mid-July. New workers would have to stay in their jobs in Montana for at least a year, or they would have to pay back the money, Mendenhall said.

House Democratic Minority Leader Kim Abbott argued the proposal overlooked existing healthcare workers, who are stressed and frustrated that itinerant workers receive more pay than they get. receive.

Abbott offered to recommend to Governor Greg Gianforte that the state set aside $ 13 million in federal relief funds for retention bonuses for inpatient hospital employees. She advocated for investment in healthcare workers who kept their jobs during the pandemic.

She noted that Kansas had set aside $ 50 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help hospitals retain frontline workers.

The commission rejected Abbott’s proposal.

The commissioners also recommend that the governor spend $ 2.3 million in relief funds to respond to an increase in crime in Billings since the start of the pandemic. Of this, $ 1.5 million would go to the Office of the Public Defender to deal with a backlog of cases and an additional $ 850,000 would go to the State Criminal Investigation Division to hire more investigators. The City of Billings and the County of Yellowstone have each agreed to spend $ 1 million on this effort.

Scott Eychner, administrator of the state’s workforce services division, told the commission the Department of Labor would need less than a third of the $ 15 million Gianforte had allocated for bonuses back to work.

To date, 1,917 claims have been approved and $ 2.3 million in bonuses paid. People who were receiving unemployment benefits at the beginning of May have until October 31 to start a new job and are still eligible for the program. New workers must work four weeks to receive the $ 1,200 bonus.

The money for recruiting medical workers will come from this return-to-work bonus estimated at $ 10 million which will be donated to the Consultative Commission for Economic Transformation and Workforce Stabilization and Development. Any amount greater than the estimated $ 4.35 million spent on recruiting medical workers and advertising relocation expense reimbursement would be allocated to a business innovation program.

The legislature allocated $ 150 million for business innovation. The state was recently given permission to use some of the money for a revolving loan fund for small businesses, budget manager Ryan Osmundson said, and will present a proposal to the committee at an upcoming meeting.

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