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Bill would increase New Hampshire unemployment benefits

Last modified: 12/26/2013 10:15:17 AM
Unemployment benefits in New Hampshire could increase for the first time in more than a decade under a proposal legislators will consider next year.

New Hampshire Employment Security has recommended a change that would come at no additional cost to employers, who finance the benefits through a per-employee tax paid into the unemployment trust fund. Officials say that fund has rebounded from the strains it faced during the recession and could now absorb an increase in benefits. The increase would be the first change to unemployment benefits since 2002.

A bill proposed in the House this year would make the recommended changes. Rep. William Infantine, one of the bill’s sponsors and a member of the Advisory Council on Unemployment Compensation, said the increase is appropriate. The Manchester Republican said the “very, very small” increase was necessary to keep benefits consistent with other New England states.

The proposed increases would vary, depending on an individual’s annual income before unemployment.

Individuals receiving benefits are placed in tiers depending on the income they earned before unemployment, said Dianne Carpenter, director of the unemployment compensation bureau. The increase for each tier of benefits would range from less than 1 percent to more than 11 percent.

New Hampshire Employment Security said the increases were targeted at helping individuals with annual earnings between $11,000 and $37,500. That amounts to a weekly benefit increase between $3 and $25, according to the agency’s proposal.

Employment Security Commissioner George Copadis said in a statement that the time is right to increase benefits.

“Considering we have been able to provide relief to the business community by removing the surcharges needed to rescue the trust fund during the last recession and the trust fund has rebounded and is performing well and is projected to continue to perform well, we feel it is only fair and appropriate to support increasing rates that have not been touched in over a decade,” he said.

New Hampshire took several steps in the last four years to save the fund. As it faced a potential deficit, surcharges on the employer tax were imposed in 2009 and 2010. They have since been eliminated, as the trust fund reached its targeted benchmarks. The fund had as little as $15 million in 2010; Carpenter said it now has $250 million.

Infantine said the proposed changes should be viewed in the context of those efforts.

“New Hampshire was extremely successful doing this,” Infantine said. “In fact, I was told at the national level it was referred to as the ‘New Hampshire solution’ when other states were trying to figure out what to do when they were having the same trouble.”

The unemployment advisory council voted this month to recommend the changes.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, a member of the advisory council, did not attend the meeting but said he would have voted against it.

“On one hand we’re surcharging the business community for the funds, and then we’re talking about giving an up to 11 percent pay increase in the benefits,” said Sanborn, a Bedford Republican. “That’s just not in the cards right now.” The tax surcharges Sanborn cited are no longer in effect – one was eliminated last fall, and the other was cut at the beginning of 2013.

Sanborn added that it was most important to encourage job creation.

“My No. 1 focus is trying to make sure that everyone has a good job,” he said. “And that should be our state’s focus.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan supported the proposed benefit increase in a press release from New Hampshire Employment Security.

“Considering the health of the trust fund, increasing benefit rates for the first time in over a decade will help those searching for employment and their families while providing an important boost to our economy as unemployed workers purchase essential goods and services,” Hassan said in a statement.

Rep. Jeffrey Goley, a Manchester Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor, could not be reached yesterday.

Infantine is the only Republican sponsor of the bill, which he hopes will not become a partisan issue.

“Some will definitely use this as a political ploy to show, ‘Look at what we’re doing for the working man,’ ” he said. “That’s garbage. This is appropriate and it has nothing to do with politics, Republican or Democrat.”

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)


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