Some seasonal businesses were partially reimbursed last year for wages paid to teenage workers.

A state program that subsidized seasonal tourism businesses for hiring teenage workers may be renewed for a second year.

The program, started amid an intense seasonal labor shortage last year, paid out $12,743 in grants to 16 businesses to partially cover wages for 37 teenage workers, according to Maine Department of Labor records.

The department is reviewing another 15 grant applications. If all are approved, $25,086 from the state’s youth employment and training pilot program will reimburse some wages for 76 teenagers at 31 employers.

Shari Langlois said she used to hire 15-year-olds to work at her Big Licks ice cream stand in Old Orchard Beach, but mostly stopped a few years ago. The increasing minimum wage made it hard to justify hiring a youth who can’t legally work as many hours, has no experience and needs lots of supervision, Langlois said.

“It was getting expensive to hire people and keep a constant eye on them,” she said. “Combined with the restrictions on time and the fact you are paying them as much as you are paying the other employees, I usually hired older ones.”

With a $1,050 state grant last year, she hired four 15-year-olds she ordinarily wouldn’t have, Langlois said.

“It just helps to be able to hire younger ones and have them trained and not feel like it is a burden,” Langlois said.

Youth Employment and Steps to Success was launched by the department last year to encourage 14- and 15-year-olds to get summer jobs in Maine’s tourism businesses. The industry has been grappling with a cap on foreign worker visas and a persistent statewide unemployment rate of just over 3 percent for two years.

Some businesses had to shorten their hours of operation or close early because of seasonal labor shortages.

The YES pilot program paired a marketing and public outreach campaign with $50,000 in grants to businesses to offset the cost of hiring young workers. Some businesses are reluctant to give inexperienced young teenagers their first job if they have to pay them Maine’s minimum wage, which increased from $7.50 in 2016 to $11 this year.

Grants provided to businesses ranged from just over $100 to $1,600, according to state records. Only half the allocated funding was used in 2018.

Tourism businesses could be reimbursed up to $400 for each worker hired that was new to the state’s workforce. To qualify, employers had to prove an employee worked at least 200 hours, according to Department of Labor rules.

The Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport got $1,600 to help pay four workers, the highest grant award from the state so far.

The four employees would have been hired regardless, but the subsidy helped pay for training and mentoring, said director of human resources Katie Clark.

“I would like to see the YES initiative better publicized for other organizations to benefit, as many seasonal businesses do not have an HR staff or someone dedicated to finding grants to support workforce development,” Clark said.

The program, started by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, is under review by the Department of Labor and Department of Economic and Community Development.

“Initially, it appears that the intent of the program was met,” Deputy Labor Commissioner Kimberly Smith said in an email. “During our upcoming review, we will also determine whether or not we will offer the program again in 2019.”


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