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Bill would boost unemployment benefits for some

CONCORD — Middle-income earners who get laid off will receive a little more money under a bill a House committee unanimously endorsed Tuesday.

The House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee voted 17-0 to approve House Bill 1499, which increases the maximum weekly benefit for unemployed workers who earned between $2,800 and $40,500.

Department of Employment Services Commissioner George Copadis said if the bill passes, it will be the first increase in unemployment benefits in 12 years.

"This increase in unemployment benefits would go to those folks who really need it," he said.

Under the bill, the weekly increase would range from $3 to $25 a week. Those on the low end would see an increase to $35 a week, while the greatest increase would be for workers earning $28,500 who would receive $315 a week under the plan. The increased benefit decreases as a worker's earnings increase to $40,500 a week.

The total cost to the unemployment trust fund would be $4.8 million, Copadis said.

Businesses pay into the trust fund, which at the depth of the recent recession ran out of money and the state had to borrow from the federal government to pay benefits.

Two emergency surcharges were imposed on employers and the trust fund rebounded to about $240 million today.

Those two 0.5 percent surcharges were rescinded in the fourth quarter of 2012 and 2013, Copadis said.

The trust fund has triggers that also reduce employer payments by 0.5 percent when it holds $250 million for every day in the quarter. He said businesses are expected to see two 0.5 percent rate reductions in the coming year.

Combined with the elimination of the two surcharges, Copadis said, businesses will save about $106 million through 2016.

The bill also creates a study commission to review the rate reduction triggers and the elimination of the week-long waiting period before laid off workers begin collecting their benefits.

The House will vote on HB 1499 by the end of the month.

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