Feds' double-count creates whopper mistake in NH jobless report

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Jul. 8—CONCORD — Double-counting of jobless claims by federal officials created a massive error that badly misrepresented New Hampshire's current unemployment trend, according to Sununu administration officials.

The whopper of a mistake made it appear the number of New Hampshire unemployment filers shot up 35% last week. Instead, the rolls actually dropped by 19%.

"The numbers reported for New Hampshire by the federal government this week are wrong and present a misleading view of trends in the state's unemployment claims, and it's important to look at the facts behind the data," Employment Security Commissioner George Copadis said Thursday.

The federal report incorrectly stated that 14,173 in New Hampshire had filed for jobless benefits in the previous week.

This would have been a significant jump from the previous week, in which 10,526 filed.

State records show the number of weekly filers actually fell, to 8,500.

Time lags in reporting of unemployment claims by the federal Department of Labor led to the snafu.

The blip occurred partly because Gov. Chris Sununu ended the state's participation in the federal bonus unemployment benefits that began at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

June 19 was the last day that New Hampshire residents received an additional, $300-per-week in federal jobless benefits.

The date also signaled the end of the state's participation in two other federal COVID-19 related programs, which extended the duration of payments and made some eligible who did not qualify for unemployment before the pandemic.

"The difference in the reporting dates for federal and state programs means that some individuals were counted in both the state and federal programs in this week's national report, artificially inflating New Hampshire's numbers and presenting an inaccurate picture of weekly continuing claims," said Brian Gottlob, director of the economic and labor market information bureau at DES.

Time lags fueled the error

Federal reporting lags by two weeks for its own program and one week for state-run unemployment benefits, state officials said.

As a result, many people were counted twice on the federal document — once in the last week they received the additional federal benefits and a second time when they returned to the traditional state unemployment program, which provides up to $427 a week in benefits.

Employment Security Deputy Commissioner Richard Lavers said the agency was aware the anomaly would occur, because of others states' experience after they ended their participation in the expanded federal unemployment benefits.

"We had an indication that this would happen because of the reporting time and when we ended the participation in the federal programs," Lavers said.

"It wasn't a surprise to us," Lavers said, but "it makes it tough to explain it."

Because of the time lag, the federal reporting of New Hampshire's numbers will be "off by some amount" for the next two or three weeks, until the Washington-based database picks up with New Hampshire's improving unemployment numbers, Lavers said.

Anybody who went online to look at the weekly Department of Labor report would know something wasn't right.

"We haven't had a weekly increase in filers of claims in more than three months," Lavers said.

NH rate lowest in country

New Hampshire will be reporting its unemployment rate for June next Tuesday. The state's 2.5% rate for May was the lowest in the country.

Copadis' agency is gearing up to start sending out "summer stipend" checks for those who have left the unemployment rolls and found work.

Last May 18, Sununu announced the stipends for those who prove they found and have worked in a new job for at least eight weeks. The stipend is $1,000 for full-time employment and $500 for part-time work.

The stipend was developed as an incentive for these unemployed who were losing their $300-per-week federal unemployment benefits.

The first day these newly employed workers can apply for their stipends is Monday, July 19.

"I am expecting this is going to be very popular," Lavers said. "We have seen a significant drop, with 14,000 fewer filing claims."

Those seeking the stipends must go back into the file they set up to receive unemployment benefits in the first place, state officials said.

Workers must furnish proof of pay to confirm their eligibility for the stipend.

The Legislative Fiscal Committee and Executive Council both approved this request to pay out $10 million in stipends on a first-come, first-served basis with federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

Sununu hasn't ruled out designating more money for these stipends if the requests exceed $10 million.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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