Sen. Dan Feltes: Gov. Sununu’s systemic failure on unemployment insurance

For the Monitor
Published: 4/24/2020 3:57:08 PM

During the last crisis, the Great Recession, I had the honor and privilege of serving as a legal aid attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, a place where I worked right out of law school up until serving in the state Senate.

I did my best to help folks all around New Hampshire, oftentimes folks who never had anyone in their corner. There, I helped fight to protect Granite State homeowners from foreclosure by Wall Street banks, helped get access to health care for folks who needed it, and fought for workers and families crushed by job loss to get their unemployment insurance benefits.

I saw how many people and workers slipped through the cracks in a crisis, and just how devastating it is for people to not receive the benefits they are entitled to or help to get back on their feet.

During this crisis, some have found comfort in the near-daily press conferences held by Gov. Sununu, but the uncomfortable reality is that tens of thousands of Granite Staters crushed by job loss are without unemployment insurance, without an ability to feed their kids, without an ability to afford needed medications.

Many have waited for weeks for their unemployment. Many haven’t even gotten a single check. And the bills are piling up.

Meanwhile, Gov. Sununu continues press conferences and photo ops without solving this major problem.

Everyone knew the avalanche of unemployment insurance claims that were coming down the pike. Everyone knew that our unemployment insurance computer systems were incapable of processing this volume of claims. Everyone knew that the computer system needed to be altered to accept the additional $600 per week in unemployment under the stimulus.

We’ve heard directly from individuals crushed by job loss who cannot even file their unemployment insurance claim online, who do not know the status of their claim, who are waiting and waiting and waiting.

Gov. Sununu did not dedicate the resources to get any of this right away. Now, tens of thousands of Granite Staters have not just lost their jobs, but they’re starting to lose everything else.

In other states, governors made this a priority and made adjustments from the get-go. Gov. Sununu hasn’t.

There are good people working for the state. There are good people at New Hampshire Employment Security. They are working overtime, sometimes double-time. This needed to be a priority from the onset of this crisis. But, instead, Gov. Sununu did not make it a priority.

He signed an executive order on unemployment and then took a victory lap, while everyone else was left holding the bag.

Unemployed workers, their families and our state employees need the support of their governor, regardless of who it is. It needs to change now and it only changes by demanding accountability and action.

At the beginning of this crisis, I called for an increase in the minimum benefit, which was previously at $32 per week, and to remove the waiting week for receiving benefits, a bill I filed last year that was vetoed by Gov. Sununu. Ultimately both these changes happened, but it doesn’t make a difference if people aren’t actually receiving any benefits.

Thursday, on a call with business interests, Gov. Sununu said he would advocate for cutting unemployment benefits. Governor, you should be focused on fixing the system failures and getting Granite Staters the benefits they are entitled to, not cutting the benefits of the people who have been left without anything for weeks.

We expect our state government to be accessible and responsive, but because of Gov. Sununu, tens of thousands of workers crushed by job loss have been hung out to dry. It needs to change now and it only changes by demanding action now and by prioritizing people not press conferences.

We need to see change now; it cannot wait until the next election. And we must all demand Gov. Sununu start to make unemployed workers a priority immediately.

(Dan Feltes of Concord serves as state senator for Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton, Penacook and Warner, and as the Senate’s majority leader. In the 2020 election, he is running to serve as governor.)

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