VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Staffing problems still plague many businesses in the region. Even a $1,000 bonus isn’t getting everyone back to work.

Staffing shortages hit the Virginia Beach summer tourism industry hard. At one point, hotels in the resort city were in need of 1,100 employees.

“We had more business than we had previously had ever over this summer. And yet we were staffed at only 60%,” said Michael Woodhead a consultant with the Hampton Roads Workforce Council.

Woodhead helped City Council put together a plan.

The City of Virginia Beach funded a back-to-work incentive program, pumping $400,000 into the initiative.

From that money, $250,000 was allotted to give 250 employees $1,000 bonus each to take a full-time position in the hospitality industry. Up to 10 bonuses can be given away per business.

$1,000 from the fund went toward marketing the program. The branded the effort “Fund Your Fire.”

$50,000 went to research.

“COVID was a disrupter but it wasn’t the entirety of the story. So we’re trying to figure out how did we get here,” explained Woodhead.

Woodhead said the data still has to be fully analyzed, but one of the biggest factors they find keeping people at home is childcare.

“A lot of our workers were saying ‘Look, it’s just cheaper for us to stay home,'” he said.

Woodhead said at this point, only about half of the $250,000 set aside for bonuses has been distributed.

But things are starting to pick up, according to Woodhead, with the end of additional federal unemployment. He also says the council is still waiting on a number of people to finish job training before they can pay out the bonus.

Woodhead also points out it’s still relatively early for the program that began about a month and a half ago.

“What we have done in that six weeks is astonishing,” said Woodhead. “So there’s no reason to think that this program is not successful, won’t be successful it just needs a little more time.”

Y-Not Italian began participating in the program.

Owner Anthony DiSilvestro says he hopes it helps them fill their 120 openings across their seven locations.

“We’re excited to have anything we can do to have an incentive for employees to come on and feel like they’re in a place where they’re welcome and give them opportunities — that’s what its about,” said DiSilvestro.

Woodhead wants Virginia Beach businesses and those looking for work to know money is still available for bonuses.

“I want to encourage any business owner out there for any potential employee who is sitting there, that we are still paying the incentive, that we still have money to pay and let’s get it done,” he said.