Employment Security may close four offices

State employment offices in Littleton, Lebanon, Keene and Salem might close if the state Legislature doesn’t give the Department of Employment Security more money, according to Commissioner Richard Brothers.

But Brothers told NHBR Daily that the closures will not be necessary if a bill passes that will – among other things — double his agency’s share of funds from unemployment taxes from a tenth of a percent to a fifth of a percent, resulting in $4.3 million a year over the next four years. The funds are used to cover administrative costs, he said.

Brothers urged Legislators to pass the measure, arguing that closing the offices will cost the state nearly 10 times as much money as it would save.

“I’m going to do everything I can to keep those offices open,” said Brothers. “It would be a disaster for both employees and businesses to shut them down.”

Currently the state has 13 state employment offices, five more than required by federal law. And because of flat federal funding, the state is having increased difficulty in keeping them open.

Brothers said other states have been closing offices and consolidating services, but New Hampshire “is bucking the trend” by actually moving people from Concord into regional offices.

Such decentralization, Brothers argued, helps prevent fraud and enables people to get back to work three weeks quicker than the national average. Brothers said that without the extra offices, the state would be more in line with the national average, increasing by $18 million the amount it pays out in unemployment benefits in order to save approximately $2 million.

Brothers, who described himself as a fiscal conservative, said, “I’d spend a dime today to save a dollar tomorrow anytime.”

If the Legislature doesn’t pass the measure, the offices in Littleton, Keene and Lebanon would be on the chopping block because they are housed in rented space, and savings could be realized immediately. But Brothers said that he was concerned because that would leave only Conway and Berlin serving the North Country, which has a high rate of unemployment, leave Grafton County without any unemployment office and would force residents in Cheshire County to travel to Claremont for assistance.

The fourth office, in Salem, is on the target list because of its proximity to Nashua (34 miles) and Manchester (21 miles) — the state’s two largest offices. Brothers said he hasn’t decided on a fifth office that would close, if necessary. – BOB SANDERS

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