Maine provides bonuses to hire health care workers

Maine is diverting federal pandemic relief funds to health care providers to give thousands of workers cash bonuses and hire and retain new employees.

Beginning this week, the state Department of Health and Human Services will begin sending out a first installment of $116 million in MaineCare payments to home and community based service providers to cover the cost of bonuses for more than 20,000 direct support workers, the Mills administration announced.

Gov. Janet Mills said the bonuses are a recognition of the contribution that home care workers have provided during the pandemic and part of “a broader investment in strengthening our system of care and services for older adults and those with disabilities and mental health challenges now and into the future.”

“Direct support workers are a vital part of the health care workforce that has been the backbone of Maine’s response to COVID-19,” Mills said in a statement. “They’ve risked their own health for nearly two years to care for Maine people so they can stay in their homes and communities throughout the state.”

Melinda Ward, CEO of OHI, a nonprofit that serves people with disabilities and mental illness, so the bonuses will help “lift up” existing workers and hire and retain new ones.

“It is our hope that these dollars will help retain our staff who have worked many, many hours with some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental illness, and who have successfully kept them safe from serious illness with COVID-19 over the past two years,” she said.

The funds will be distributed to 311 providers in two batches, according to the Mills administration, the first going out this week and the remainder by the end of the month. Any provider that receives the funds for bonuses are required to pay at least 80% of the money in direct payments to staff, under the terms of the program.

The new program is the latest round of pandemic-related disbursements from Mills’ $1 billion Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, which is funded with federal relief money.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March, which provided direct payments to individuals and billions of dollars for states and local governments.

Maine got more than $4.5 billion from the pandemic relief package, including money for businesses and direct payments to residents and funding for local governments.

Like many states, Maine has tapped into the windfall of federal funds to provide hiring bonuses or “hazard pay” for workers who remained on the job during the pandemic.

In November, the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services sent out one-time payments of $285 to an estimated 524,754 workers who remained on the job during the COVID-19 state of emergency in 2020.

The relief payments were approved as part of the state’s two-year, $8.5 billion budget approved by the Maine Legislature earlier this year. The nearly $150 million in relief checks are funded by federal CARES Act money.

Individuals with an adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 in 2020, or $150,000 for joint filers, were eligible for the relief payments.

This article was originally posted on Maine provides bonuses to hire health care workers