$300 in extra jobless benefits going away

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May 18—CONCORD — In a carrot-and-stick approach to reducing the state's unemployment rolls, Gov. Chris Sununu will end the federal $300-per-week unemployment benefit and immediately offer a $1,000 bonus to those who find full-time work.

On Tuesday, Sununu signed a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, informing the Biden administration that New Hampshire would end the discretionary federal boost in 30 days, on June 19.

In turn, beginning today , anyone who gets off unemployment and keeps a job for at least eight weeks will receive a $1,000 state check, Sununu said. Part-time workers will get a $500 bonus.

Only those getting jobs that pay less than $25 an hour will be eligible for the bonus. The goal, the governor said, is to target "the folks who need it the most."

The idea is to beef up the state's workforce, which is roughly 15,000 smaller than a year ago, Sununu said.

"Everyone is looking to hire. Wages are starting at $15 or $20 an hour. This is an awesome opportunity for our citizens to get back to work," Sununu said.

Sununu said he is setting aside $10 million in federal grants for the bonuses, which will be given out on a "first-time, first-served basis."

"We know at least 10,000 Granite Staters will have an opportunity for some stipend or bonus," Sununu said. "That is your own money — go get it."

At the onset of the pandemic, New Hampshire became one of the first states in the nation to expand unemployment benefits before Congress created the extra federal benefit in the CARES Act passed in March 2020.

The governor's announcement came as the state Department of Employment Security said unemployment here was 2.8% in April, the lowest mark since 2.7% in February 2020 — just before the pandemic hit.

Once COVID-19 took hold, the jobless rate soared in April to nearly 17%.

While a majority of states had to borrow from the federal unemployment trust fund to pay benefits, New Hampshire didn't have to because its jobless rate improved dramatically starting last summer, Sununu said.

"It's been a precipitous return to very normal levels" of unemployment, Sununu said.

Timed for summer

The bonus comes at a pivotal time, Sununu said, as the state's hospitality employers seek to staff up for the summer tourism season.

Sununu said eliminating the $300-per-week benefit will affect roughly 35,000 people. About 15,000 were in the federal program started after COVID-19, and 20,000 were in the state's traditional unemployment program.

"This affects all of them — they were all getting the $300. Once we make this change, we go back to the level of state unemployment benefits," he said.

The maximum state unemployment benefit is $427 a week.

A month ago, Sununu had said that though other Republican governors were ending the $300 benefit, he didn't see the need to "discontinue it."

What's changed, Sununu said, is that the state's improving economy created a chronic workforce shortage. He also cited the ending of COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and an expanding number of people vaccinated against the virus.

In March 2020, about 13,750 jobs were listed in New Hampshire. According to the DES' latest report, 14,255 jobs are unfilled.

"The number of vacant jobs is at an all-time high," Sununu said.

As of Tuesday, 68% of people eligible to receive the vaccine have signed up, and 44% (593,000) of all New Hampshire residents are fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Beth Daly, director of the state's infectious disease control bureau.

"Our situation has evolved really for all the better," Sununu said. "We have an opportunity to create an incentive in the opposite direction."

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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