RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ/Governor’s Office Release) - Governor Ralph Northam has announced a new $3 million investment to pilot the Return to Earn Grant Program, designed to match payments from eligible small businesses to provide new hires with up to $1,000 each to support their transition back into the workforce.
With COVID-related business restrictions dropped, and employment programs getting back to pre-COVID rules regarding job-hunting, people are returning to the workforce, many for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020.
While many companies are offering hiring bonuses, the Return to Earn Grant Program will serve businesses, with fewer than 100 employees each, that may not have the resources to provide this financial support, said Northam. The launch of this program will be funded through Virginia’s federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); additional recovery funds may be allocated based on demand.
“Many Virginians who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic still face a variety of barriers to returning to work, like access to affordable child care, transportation, and a living wage,” said Governor Northam. “These bonuses will serve as an incentive for unemployed workers to get back into the workforce while also helping employers fill vacant jobs. The Virginia Return to Earn Grant Program is about empowering the true catalysts of our economic comeback—Virginia’s workers and small businesses.”
This initiative is designed to match up to $500 that a qualifying small business pays directly to a new employee hired after May 31, 2021, either as a lump sum or in installments, to offset the ongoing costs of child care, transportation or other barriers to re-employment. Funds will only be reimbursed to businesses for new hires in positions that pay at least $15 per hour, and that qualify as W-2 employment, either full- or part-time. To help address workforce shortages in child care, qualifying child care businesses may qualify for up to $500 per new hire without the match requirement.
“For Virginia to fully recover from the impacts of the pandemic on our economy, we need targeted solutions,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Dr. Megan Healy. “One in three Virginia workers has applied for unemployment benefits over the course of the pandemic. The new Return to Earn Grant Program will accomplish a dual purpose of helping unemployed Virginians transition back into living wage jobs, particularly in the child care industry, and supporting small businesses with their hiring needs.”
Republican state senators Thomas K. Norment, Jr. and Stephen D. Newman say the program is too one-sided, and are calling for a special session.
“Following the ‘Back to Work’ bonuses we proposed last month, Governor Northam has now proposed ‘Return to Earn.’ His scheme, however, is clearly designed to adhere to a partisan agenda and not in the best interests of workers, employers, or the Commonwealth.”
The senators continued, “Had the Governor called a special session to act on our plan as we suggested on May 25, the proposal he offered today could have been more robust, benefitting employees and employers while rectifying our current employment crisis.
“Requiring businesses to pay bonuses to participate, and mandating a higher wage rate if they do, will result in a limited number of businesses availing themselves of this program. By continuing the $300 per week supplemental unemployment payments, the Governor’s proposal places these state bonuses in competition with the federal government’s, doing little to encourage many to return to the workforce.
“We are a special session away from getting this right.
“While the administration has finally acknowledged the employment crisis with which Virginia’s businesses are having to grapple, they have once again done so by executive edict. Virginia has had to endure single-man rule for over a year now and the Commonwealth is not better off as a result.
“The Governor needs to call the General Assembly into special session to address the employment crisis and amend the 2020-2022 budget to reflect allocations related to the American Rescue Plan Act. And, he needs to do so as soon as possible.”
The launch of the program coincides with the reinstatement of the weekly work search requirement in Virginia, which started the week of May 31, 2021. Virginians receiving unemployment benefits must make contact with employers each week and accept reasonable offers of employment.
June 1, the Commonwealth also reopened its Virginia Career Works Centers for in-person services to ensure Virginians making the transition back to the workforce have access to the resources they need to find high-quality jobs, according to Northam. Jobseekers can continue to access resources virtually through the Virginia Career Works Referral Portal.
For additional information on requirements and to apply for Return to Earn grant funding, small businesses should contact their local Virginia Career Works Center. Answers to frequently asked questions about the program can be found here.
HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Recyclops, a private recycling company and environmental firm, is coming to Harrisonburg.
Recyclops provides curbside recycling to municipalities that don’t provide their own to residents, or that have had to get rid of their service. The company is like Uber for recycling and hires drivers to use their own vehicles to pick up customer’s recycling bags at their homes and take them to drop-off centers.
They make pickups every other week and do all the sorting for you.
Recyclops said that Harrisonburg residents showed great interest in the program, which is what brought them here.
“Harrisonburg has a wonderful track record of participation of their residents in the program and also they had a pretty good handle on contamination,” said Dennis Wise, Recyclops’s Vice President of Sales and Business Development.
Contamination refers to putting things in recycling bags that shouldn’t be there.
The company will also be coming to Staunton and Waynesboro in the near future. You can sign up for the service online here.
ELKTON, Va. (WHSV) - A woman is charged with arson after a fire in Rockingham County. 36-year-old Laurel Ansell is accused of lighting 2 chairs in a living room, using a torch-style lighter and throwing a bag of cement over it.
Officials say Ansell was a renter.
Rockingham County Fire and Rescue responded to a call about the structure fire prior to 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Officials say the residence, in the 4000 block of Park Way in Elkton, was engulfed in flames. As of 11:30 Monday morning, responders were still in the process of putting it out.
Wes Shifflett of Rockingham County Fire and Rescue says everyone evacuated the house and there were no injuries.
The house is a total loss with more than 100-thousand dollars in damage.
PENDLETON COUNTY, W. Va. (WHSV) - It’s been three months since 24-year-old Cassie Sheetz was last seen hiking with two men near Spruce Knob, and the search for her whereabouts continue.
Back in March, police told WHSV they received a report for three hikers who were missing while hiking in the Monongahela National Forest. They say two of the hikers were found, one male by a vehicle and another male coming out of the forest.
The third hiker, who is Sheetz, was still missing. Police said they believe Sheetz has no previous experience hiking in that area.
West Virginia State Police used aviation equipment and K-9′s to search the forest but were unable to find her.
As of Friday, police say they are not actively searching for Sheetz but are investigating more than a dozen leads that were submitted. Police say some of those leads were speculative and are no longer able to talk to the two men who were with Sheetz after one obtained a lawyer.
Arlene Shelton, Sheetz’s mom, says family members have been searching for her daughter along with community members, but have still found nothing.
“We’re finding nothing, no shoes, no clothes, no hair, nothing,” Shelton said. “There’s no sign that she was ever at Spruce Knob so we don’t know what else to do.”
Shelton says she knows her daughter would not go for a hike that challenging without being prepared and is asks if anyone knows anything to come forward.
“Right now, I’ve heard everything from her being shot to her being thrown off a cliff to her just being left somewhere rotting and no one can find her,” Shelton said.
If you have any information on the whereabouts of Sheetz, contact West Virginia State Police.
STAUNTON, Va. (WVIR) - A new business in the Shenandoah Valley is providing a safe space for budding entrepreneurs to get their products and creations out there.
The Foundry owner Jen Mulledy knew she wanted to be a small business owner, but she didn’t want to do it alone.
“Small business is extremely lonely,” said Mulledy. “You get a little customer chat time, but you don’t really have colleagues.”
Then the idea for The Foundry took shape.
“We’re a collection of pop-up shops, but at the heart of this we’re a retail incubator,” stated Mulledy.
She created a support system while sharing the risk.
“Such as signing a lease by yourself for multiple years. Taking out loans in the tens of thousands of dollars to fill out a space with inventory. Having to give up a full-time job to be here every single day,” said Mulledy.
She sells her upcycled products and home decor alongside several other shops like Brigitte Marie Fine Art. “I’m more artist less natural salesperson, so it’s exciting to have my stuff in a space that gets exposure but that I have help with the business side and the promotional side,” said artist Brigitte Huson.
Kathleen Garcia is filling a need selling art supplies. “I like working with people. I don’t really want to venture on my own. So it would be if there’s anything beyond this it would be a joint effort,” stated Garcia.
And mother-son duo Carolyn and Peyton Kenee of Four Hands Eight Paws, who design items to benefit local animal rescues, is already seeing a bump in sales.
“We’ve gotten a few online sales that I don’t think we probably would have gotten from people in Staunton doing a vacation and they look us up and place an order online,” said Carolyn Kenee.
But, this is a launchpad.
“We’re not gonna kick anybody out, but we want them to grow and branch out on their own,” said Mulledy.
The Foundry can be a temporary home for other entrepreneurs looking to test their ideas in a safe space.
“The amount of interest that we have had in this one little shop has been unbelievable. And that just tells me that there is a need for this in many locations,” stated Mulledy.
The Foundry hopes to fill that need by looking at other places to open up. Mulledy says they also hope to host classes and events in the future.