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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 24, 2010

Premium Plus plan nudges employers

Try finding a job in California or Las Vegas these days, where the unemployment rate has been stuck for months at about 13 percent.

Those numbers would seem to make Hawai'i's 6.7 percent rate worth celebrating. But the data don't capture the intensity of desperation in a place where $1,000 barely rents a decent place to live and you can't simply pack up the car and move to where the work is more plentiful.

That's why we hope Hawai'i businesses will take advantage of the Premium Plus program announced by Gov. Linda Lingle. The program, financed by the state and federal governments, is an incentive for businesses to hire unemployed workers, with the government subsidizing the workers' health care benefits for up to a year.

The program is aimed at businesses with fewer than 50 workers and could potentially help to get as many as 6,450 people off unemployment.

The biggest challenge faced by Premium Plus is that it will only cover up to about $140 a month in benefit costs, or $1,680 a year. That's not a lot, especially for family coverage.

But the incentive may be just enough to nudge businesses to hire additional workers, especially as the economy improves and customer demand strengthens . And every person who starts collecting a paycheck helps to further strengthen the economy.

Even if the program hits only half of its target and gets 3,000 people off unemployment, that's still a big dent. And if for some reason demand outstrips the $10 million budgeted for the program, we hope the state will find more cash to keep it going. This innovative program is just the kind of boost businesses could use right about now to help keep the recovery on track.