Stimulus comes to the rescue for NH’s unemployed

But lack of guidance will delay the issuance of some checks

More than 21,000 jobless Granite Staters will get their federal unemployment benefits extended and twice as many will get enhanced benefits, as a result of the of the stimulus bill passed by Congress, and signed – after some hesitation – by President Trump.

The enhanced benefits – that $300 a week – started December 27, but self-employed and those collecting for other Covid-related reasons (such as child care because of remote schooling) might have to wait before they get anything at all under the new law.

Here is the breakdown on what has become a rather complicated system.

Extended benefits (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation): Normally a worker gets 26 weeks after they are laid off. The old CARES Act gave them another 13 weeks, but that extension ended the day after Christmas. The new stimulus package will extend those benefits by another 11 weeks, meaning they will get 50 weeks in total, unless they are able to get back to work. As of December 23, 8,459 of the unemployed were on extended benefits.

Expanded eligibility (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance): Under both the old law and the new law, some people were able to collect benefits, paid by the federal government, that weren’t able to before.

Among these are business owners, whether they are the owner of a business that is shut down, or a self-employed worker, such as an Uber driver or carpenter subcontracting on a job, or a freelance musician. There were 3,757 of such business owners collecting benefits last week

The rest (some 9,541) also received federal backed benefits, for Covid related reasons, mostly because child care or quarantine orders, or workplace disruptions directly related to Covid-19.

Altogether, there were 21,730 Granite Staters collecting federal benefits last week who will be eligible for extended benefits this week (ending on January 2) until the week ending on March 13 (ironically, the anniversary of the state of emergency in New Hampshire). So there won’t be any gap of coverage. However, reported NHES Deputy Commission Richard Lavers “we do not yet have guidance on implementation, which will cause delays in being able to get the new extended PUA/PEUC programs up and running.” In other words, it is unclear when the department will be issuing that first check.

Enhanced benefits: The good news is the 20,990, who were receiving the old fashioned non-Covid (at least directly) benefits won’t have to wait to get their enhanced benefits, since the department has enough guidance to quickly tack on $300 a week.   Those receiving federal benefits will also start getting that extra money whenever they get their first check under the new law.

The law will also help out those collecting who lost income from wages as well as self-employment income. That self-employment income isn’t included in calculating benefits, but recipients will now will get $100 a week instead, though the rules on that still have to be spelled out.

The new law could indirectly affect the unemployment tax rate paid by employers, not next quarter – which is still expected to decrease – but possibly for the rest of 2021.

That all depends on another part of the bill, where the state gets flexible funds to spend on Covid related expenses, like protective equipment. Under the old law, the state got $1.25 billion in funds but had to spend them by December 31. The governor set up an organization to administer this money (GOFERR) that already deposited $50 million into the unemployment trust fund, which had declined so much that it wiped out the discount employers had been receiving as a result of state’s pre-pandemic healthy trust fund. But because of the recession, the department had to start issuing a half percent surcharge, with another surcharge due to go into effect the first quarter of 2021.

As a result of that infusion the trust fund is now at $122 million, meaning that the new surcharge won’t go into effect and the old one old surcharge will go away.

The question is whether the fund will get any more money, since the GOFERR was planning to put any lapsed money – that it would have had to return by the end of the year – into the trust fund.

No one knows how much that would have been, but in its latest transparency report, as of December 11, some $200 million was not spent. In a forum earlier this month, Lavers said that with that extra money (and if the unemployment situation doesn’t get more dire), that lower tax rate would last for the rest of next year.

But under the new law, the state may be able keep that money, and might be getting more, so Lavers no longer speculated on what will happen throughout the year, though he said he still expected to get some lapsed funds.

An inquiry to GOFERR was not returned by NH Business Review’s deadline.

So far, New Hampshire has paid 165,000 people nearly $1.5 billion in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

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