Senate gives preliminary OK to spending on job training

But votes down eliminating one-week waiting period for first unemployment check

Should New Hampshire dip into the unemployment trust fund to reinstate job training in industries that need workers as well as end the one-week waiting period for those who have lost their jobs?

Yes to the former and no to the latter. At least that’s what the NH Senate’s answer was last week, though it put aside for now dealing with the financial implication of spending $6.5 million on a job training program in the coming weeks.

The elimination of the job training program and establishment of the waiting period were both responses to the Great Recession, which caused the unemployment trust fund to sink to dangerously low levels, triggering an increase in the unemployment tax rate.

Since then, the tax rate has dropped to become one of the lowest rates country, and because of that it’s time for the waiting period for benefits should end, agreed the Senate Commerce Committee in a unanimous vote.

With the waiting period, an unemployed worker doesn’t receive what should be the first week’s check until all benefits are exhausted after six months. But the average worker who finds a job in less time than that never sees it.

“Why should you wait?” said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, sponsor of Senate Bill 226. “Your bills don’t wait. We are out of the recession. People are crushed by job loss. They have the right to get their basic needs met. It’s unfair. It’s punitive.”

The bill would cost $3.4 million, according to the bill’s fiscal note, and Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, was worried that it might cause the fund to sink below the $275 million threshold, triggering a tax increase. Unemployment taxes account for about a fifth of business taxes in total, he said, “and the last thing the business community needs is a tax increase.” Besides, workers shouldn’t get too comfortable the first week after they are laid off.

“They should not look at it (unemployment insurance) as a hammock but a trampoline,” he said.

The Senate voted against the bill 12-11.

‘The jobs are there’

SB 227 would only indirectly affect the unemployment trust fund. It would increase the administration portion of the contribution to the fund from a fifth of a percent to a half a percent, which would result in about $6.5 million going into a training fund. The money would be used to fund certificate programs and occupational skills training for employers who have immediate job needs, while also providing child care and transportation assistance.

There would be money for marketing and special outreach in areas of high unemployment, for people who are in need of training to change careers, those with substance use disorders and legal immigrants.

“The jobs are there,” said Feltes. “If we bolster the job training, it would be good for workers, good for business and good for economy.”

Sanborn spoke out against this bill as well, pointing out that the money going to the job training fund is money that is not replenishing the unemployment fund, which could again result in a tax increase.

“Is the unemployment fund a job training program slush fund? Is it a fund for people that don’t have job or for people who already have jobs?”

But this time, several Republicans, concerned with the state’s acute labor shortage, sided with Feltes.

“This is about matching qualified employees with open jobs,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

The Senate could revisit the cost of the bill in the Finance Committee in the next few weeks, Bradley said, “but we are in a very competitive environment. Companies are not able to expand here.”

The Senate passed the bill to the Finance Committee, 19-4.

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