Although business owners statewide have struggled to fill vacancies, a legislative committee earlier this month failed to act on a proposal to attract workers to New Hampshire.

The plan would have used $ 17 million in federal pandemic relief funds to pay off up to $ 20,000 in student loan debt for more than 1,000 people who agree to take up jobs in New Hampshire and occupy this job for four years.

Introduced by the governor’s office for emergency relief and recovery, the measure was tabled 10-0 on a bipartisan vote by the legislature’s joint tax committee.

The program would be a waste of money and unfair to those who paid off student debt without government help, Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said at the committee meeting on Dec. 17. He also said that under the program, the government would assume the traditional role of companies in recruiting employees.

“I don’t think we should be incentivizing people in a monetary way to come to a state that is already the best place to live. The people who want to live here are here and those who don’t want to live here are going to leave.

But some employers say such incentives would help fill vacant jobs, including in hospitals trying to deal with the winter wave of COVID-19 patients.

Keene Cheshire Medical Center employs around 500 nurses, but is looking to hire 57 more.

Don Caruso, president and CEO of the medical center, said financial incentives can be a powerful recruiting tool.

“Loan forgiveness has long been a mechanism to get people to join a profession and work in a state. The state has long had a program that has been either unfunded or poorly funded, ”he said. “I have been defending this for many years. “

Caruso said he would favor a program aimed at students who take nursing programs in the state and agree to stay in New Hampshire.

The state has a college graduate incentive program, whereby New Hampshire companies that choose to participate can pay eligible graduates $ 1,000 per year for the first four years of their employment.

Pam DiNapoli, executive director of the NH Nurses Association, said Thursday she attended the committee meeting and was disappointed to see lawmakers tabling a proposal that would have used federal money and not weighed down on State resources.

“That’s the problem,” she said. “Money is coming in and not being used appropriately to increase the workforce. “

Taylor Caswell, director of the governor’s office for emergency relief and rehabilitation, appeared before the legislative committee to vote in favor of the proposal.

“I think what we’re trying to do here is create a program that meets a need in our state right now for the workforce, and especially a workforce that has received recent training, “he said.

“We could take all the people who are not currently working in New Hampshire and put them into jobs that are available in New Hampshire and are still short. So it’s an attempt to create an opportunity for people to decide to come to New Hampshire and take a job in New Hampshire and work for our employers. “

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled a preliminary estimate of 50,000 job openings in New Hampshire in October, the latest statistics available, when the state had 16,270 unemployed.

Opposing the proposal, Representative Jess Edwards, R-Rockingham, put forward a hypothetical situation in which someone decided to enter the military or a plumbing training program, only to regret that decision later upon learning that the government was offering a college loan discount. program.

“Wouldn’t we be spreading the message that they made a terrible decision because they didn’t bet on the state by creating a raffle?” He asked Caswell. “Wouldn’t this family feel like it was an irresponsible government to pick winners and losers after making a critical decision in life?”

Caswell said he couldn’t talk about all the potential results of this or any other program.

“I’m just going to keep saying that this program is designed to help employers,” Caswell said. “No program for which we are able to provide resources will necessarily fit all possible scenarios.”

Giuda, Edwards, Reps Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough voted to file loan cancellation program; Keith Erf, R-Weare, Tracy Emerick, R-Hampton, and Karen Umberger, R-Kearsarge; as well as Sens. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester; Gary Daniels, R-Milford; Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, and Chuck Morse, R-Salem.

Leishman, the committee’s only local lawmaker, could not be reached for comment Thursday.