By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Deputy Employment Security Commissioner Richard Lavers said the state is now seeing a decline in requests for new unemployment claims from the peak and “we are cautiously optimistic.”
The rate of decline is more than double that of the country as a whole, in large part due to the fact that New Hampshire created eligibility sooner than other states, Lavers told the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force on Monday.
A “hot button” issue is what to do if someone refuses an offer of suitable employment, Lavers said.
In the past, that would jeopardize their ability to get benefits. What the state has received for guidance from the federal government is that if they can certify they have COVID-19 issues, they would be able to continue to collect.
If they can certify they are a primary caregiver for someone who has COVID-19, if they have symptoms, or if they are self-quarantining at the direction of an employer or health care provider, they can still get benefits and refuse work.
Just because a person wants to self-quarantine will not be enough, Lavers said.
Part-time workers will still be able to get unemployment benefits and will need to put their hourly earnings in weekly. If they work 30 percent of the time, that is fine, but above that, every dollar earned reduces the benefit, Lavers said.
Workshare is another way to encourage more people to come back to work because they could allow employers a 10 to 50 percent reduction in employee hours, but still remain employed and they get the same percentage of their weekly benefit from unemployment.
“That would result in a great incentive because they would be earning more for working,” Lavers said.
Lavers said since March 17, the state saw over 150,000 new claims for unemployment, going from 500 to 600 new claims per week to 30,000 claims the next week. Not all new claims turn into payable claims, he noted.
About 78 percent of new claims actually turn into active, weekly claims, Lavers said. Some will have eligibility issues. The main reason people are not being paid now is because of severance pay and separation pay that they are receiving, he said.
New Hampshire has paid out $242 million in unemployment benefits so far. Of that $158 million has been in the $600 additional weekly payments which began April 17, consistent with neighboring states, Lavers said.
The employment assistance hotline 603-271-7700 has received over 222,000 phone calls, he said. “We are fortunate we have the men and women of New Hampshire National Guard,” about 200 of them taking many of the calls.
While they have seen a recent drop in call volume, they still handle about 6,000 calls a day. The phone line is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
A large percentage of people, he said, have no experience filing such unemployment claims as the state had a rate of unemployment of about 3 percent before the pandemic.
Scott Brody offered the task force a presentation on summer camps across the state and included some suggested guidelines that the committee could consider offering the governor. A copy of the presentation is here https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/e2634d6b-fbd5-4943-8725-7ec1225a4752/Testimony-of-Scott-Brody.pdf
Last week, when Sununu planned to address his first phase of reopening plans, the task force had presentations from campgrounds, hair salons, recreation and state parks, and other aspects and it held two public input sessions on Thursday and Friday.
Even though the time was extended, chairman D.J. Bettencourt said as many as 50 people were still waiting to ask questions Friday afternoon. He announced procedural changes after “a little bit of confusion on draft guidelines” last week.
“That process got a little untidy,” he said of various draft proposals from subcommittees.
This week, he said the subcommittee should send the members only the final subcommittee recommendations.
State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, a member of the committee, said he was “frosted” that the subcommittee’s recommendations to the governor for campgrounds were not what the governor announced and he spent the weekend fielding calls from angry campground owners.
“In the end, public health has the final say on what the guidelines look like,” Bettencourt said, and noted that members with concerns should direct them to the state Department of Public Health.
“Health experts will review the drafts to make sure they make sense from a public health perspective. That is what the governor will see,” Bettencourt said.
He said that as of this week, Alan Brooks of the Attorney General’s Office will be joining the calls.
Workers and business owners will have an opportunity to comment Friday morning on proposed guidance for Gov. Chris Sununu to consider for reopening various sectors of the state’s economy.
It will be offered after the 19-member Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force hears presentations from 11 aspects of the state’s economy that still remain closed.
The presentations are open to the public by phone. The call-in number 1-800-356-8278 or 1-857-444-0744 and use pin numbers 194499, 600744, or 125563.
Presentations This Week
On Monday, the task force heard about unemployment benefits and then about summer camps (both day and overnight) from Rich Lavers, deputy commissioner of the Department of Employment Security and Scott Brody, owner of Camps Kenwood and Evergreen in Wilmot, respectively.
On Tuesday, it will hear from business centers, sports betting, amusement parks, and baseball operations.
On Wednesday, there will be a presentation on business liability along with dentistry and religious organizations.
On Thursday, the task force will get a public health update and hear from performing arts and massage therapy.
On Friday, the current plan is to have a public comment 9 to 11 a.m. and tentatively a 1:30 p.m. meeting is planned on beaches.
No votes have been scheduled this week for the task force.
New Hampshire rural hospitals and health-care providers will receive $115.4 million in the third round of federal grants established under the bipartisan CARES Act, (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ACT).
U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, along with U.S. Representatives Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas, all Democrats, announced the additional funds.
The first $30 billion was disbursed to providers throughout the country last month and included $164.5 million for New Hampshire health-care providers and rural hospitals. Nearly $16 million was distributed last week with more on the way.
Shaheen said more work remains to ensure rural health-care survives.
“I’ll keep urging the Trump administration to get the additional federal support provided by Congress to our frontline providers and workers, and will continue to call for stringent congressional oversight so relief reaches those who need it most,” she said.
Pappas said the COVID-19 pandemic has put a serious strain on the health-care system, which is even more pronounced in rural parts of New Hampshire.
“That is why it is crucial we continue to provide support for rural hospitals and providers throughout the state,” he said.