Sen. Dan Feltes: State should increase minimum weekly unemployment amount

For the Monitor
Published: 3/20/2020 4:55:53 PM
Modified: 3/20/2020 4:55:40 PM

For about a decade, right out of law school and up until serving in the state Senate, I served as a legal aid attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance helping low-income families, seniors and veterans.

While there I represented hundreds of people during the Great Recession, helping protect against foreclosure, helping families and seniors with needed services, and representing workers crushed by job loss who needed access to unemployment insurance and job training.

The Great Recession was certainly trying, but everyone worked together and stepped up to the plate, from across party lines, to state employees, to the business community, to stakeholders representing workers. There are lessons to be learned from that time period.

It is critical to public health, to our families and to our economy to expand unemployment insurance benefits as much as possible in this time of crisis. The steps taken so far to increase access to unemployment for those who have lost work due to COVID-19 are welcome news for workers and businesses across New Hampshire.

I want to especially thank all the state employees who have been and are working long hours, taking in a record number of applications, and making sure unemployment insurance benefits are available to those who need them most. Folks can apply for unemployment insurance benefits or by calling 603-271-7700.

In one week alone, well over 10,000 Granite Staters applied for unemployment insurance. Like the last economic crisis of the Great Recession, workers and families all across New Hampshire are getting crushed by job loss. That is particularly true for workers in restaurants, bars and food service, including many of our tipped workers. After the abrupt order to shut down restaurants and bars, business owners and workers had to scramble to adjust and to plan, with thousands now losing their jobs.

While expanded unemployment insurance access is welcome news, expanded access must come with expanded benefits. Currently, the minimum unemployment benefit in New Hampshire is $32 and has not been increased – at all – since prior to the last economic crisis of the Great Recession.

Many lower-wage workers will not be able to afford to live off of the $100 or $150 per week they will be qualified to receive in unemployment. This is particularly true of tipped workers in our restaurants and bars that have had to temporarily close or limit services.

Many of the folks whose employment was affected are families who were already living paycheck to paycheck, and $100 or so a week just won’t cut it. The minimum weekly benefit amount must be raised, from the current $32 per week to $250 per week, so that no worker receives less than $1,000 per month.

Weekly unemployment benefits in New Hampshire have not been increased since prior to the Great Recession, well over a decade ago. Ensuring workers receive at least $1,000 per month is absolutely critical to not only helping families but helping our economy.

We are going to be feeling the effects of this crisis for a while and we need to do everything we can to keep New Hampshire families afloat. We’re all in this together.

Over the next few weeks and months, we’re going to hear a lot about industries that need to be bailed out. We must remember our workers and small business owners, and we must remember we cannot afford to leave anyone behind. We need to put more money in your pocket, and actually help people get through this, and so my hope and request is that Gov. Sununu lift the minimum weekly benefit amount from $32 per week to $250 per week, as soon as possible.

(Dan Feltes is a former legal aid attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance and lives in the South End of Concord with his wife, Erin, and their two daughters, Iris and Josie. Dan serves as state senator for Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton, Penacook and Warner, and as the Senate’s majority leader. In the 2020 election, Dan is running to serve as governor.)

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