Tradewinds on State Street in Veazie has a sign up along the road advertising job openings. Gov. Janet Mills' administration will offer incentive payments to get workers off unemployment and into jobs this summer. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills’ administration is trying out an incentive program to get people off unemployment and into jobs this summer, as employers seek to fill empty positions.

The “Back to Work” program will use $10 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to provide one-time, $1,500 payments to workers who start a new job by the end of June or $1,000 if they do so by the end of July. The job must pay under $25 an hour and eligible people must be employed for eight weeks straight.

The payments could reach up to 7,500 people. They would first go to the employer, who would be expected to pass it onto their eligible workers.

The move comes as the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has hovered just below 5 percent in the last two months and as the summer tourism season approaches. Some states have pushed to end an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits Congress provided for in the American Rescue Plan Act in March, arguing the increased benefits are preventing people from coming back to work.

It is not clear how much the extra payment is contributing to unemployment, but President Joe Biden has not opposed those efforts and signaled the extra payment will end in September. Mills, a Democrat, has continued the payment along with an additional $100 for those who were both self employed and working a traditional job. Full work search requirements returned in May after the state suspended them last year.

The state added 11,200 jobs in the year’s first quarter. But the state’s hospitality industry is still struggling to attract workers, some of whom are weighing whether to return to the industry.

Mills said the program is “complemented” by the state’s vaccination efforts and should be seen as a positive step to transitioning into a world where the pandemic is more manageable.

“With this new program, we are providing another tool to accelerate peoples’ transition back into the workforce, protecting their health and their long-term financial stability,” she said.

The program begins Tuesday and will accept applications through July 25.