Feltes, Volinsky at odds over $600 unemployment benefit renewal

  • Andru Volinsky

  • State Sen. Dan Feltes speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Sewalls Falls Bridge in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 7/28/2020 4:43:52 PM

Congress continues to dither on precisely how to continue to provide enhanced unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, the question is driving a wedge in the New Hampshire governor’s race.

Speaking on New Hampshire Today, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky told host Jack Heath that the federal expansion of unemployment benefits should be extended before it runs out – but not necessarily at the level it is now.

“There were some unintended consequences to the $600 additional payment,” he said Monday. “People could earn more money by not going to work. I don’t think that’s a good result.”

Currently, those applying for unemployment through their state agencies receive an additional $600 per week in federal money on top of state benefits. That boost, which was passed by Congress earlier this spring as an economic support, expired July 25 in New Hampshire; Democrats in Washington, D.C have advocated for it to be extended.

Volinsky says the government should take pause first and re-strategize.

He said he would not support the proposal by U.S. Senate Republicans to drop the federal boost down to $200 a week and then transition to a model in which applicants receive 70% of their wages from before.

“Dropping to the 70% level doesn’t help either,” he said. “So I think there’s room for compromise between.”

The councilor’s comments drew a rebuke from State Sen. Dan Feltes who reiterated his support for extending the $600 a week boost.

“We shouldn’t be punishing workers and their families crushed by job loss by taking away their unemployment insurance,” said Feltes, who is vying with Volinsky to be the Democrat to challenge Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Feltes went on to criticize Sununu as someone who was “gifted a ski resort” and Volinsky as a decades-long corporate attorney out of touch with working families.

“Unemployment insurance is not having ‘unintended consequences’; it’s helping working families actually get by, it’s helping ensure the bills are paid, including to many landlords and small businesses, and it’s helping stabilize our local economy here in New Hampshire,” Feltes said.

Sununu has also expressed skepticism about the $600 a week minimum, arguing that it has disincentivized many from returning to work.

The effort to renew the unemployment benefit boost comes with real stakes for many families. A statewide moratorium on evictions imposed by Sununu during the beginning of the pandemic expired July 1 after Sununu declined to extend it, citing the needs of landlords.

Now, after the 30 days grace period for new eviction proceedings comes to a close, housing advocates have been sounding alarm about a swell in evictions in coming weeks.

In a follow-up interview Tuesday, Volinsky said he thinks the federal unemployment benefit boost should be increased in tandem with a similar increase to state unemployment benefits and an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

Throughout the primary period, Volisnky and Feltes have agreed on most major policy areas, but they have differed on some issues. The two clashed last week on whether the state should categorically block the proposed Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline between Manchester and Stratham, a move that Volinsky supports and Feltes doesn’t.

And the two disagree on “the pledge” – the traditional vow by New Hampshire candidates of both parties that they won’t support a broad-based tax like an income or sales tax. Feltes has taken that pledge; Volinsky has not. 

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