More help for the unemployed

States have until March 31 to make updates to their unemployment applications clarifying who is newly qualified for benefits.

More than 21,000 people in danger of losing unemployment benefits in New Hampshire after this week would continue getting checks under a bill Congress was working to pass as soon as Monday night.

Many people collecting unemployment should receive a $300 weekly supplemental jobless benefit and be eligible for an additional 11 weeks of unemployment, if needed.

Those who feared their benefits would be cut off after this week shouldn’t expect any disruption in receiving their checks.

“Based upon the initial language shared with states, there would not be a gap,” said Rich Lavers, deputy commissioner at Employment Security.

Those 21,000 recipients who risked losing benefits included gig workers and the self-employed, as well as people citing a COVID-19-specific reason not normally covered by the unemployment system, Lavers said.

People who exhausted their 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits could in many cases collect an additional 13 weeks under a federal program that was set to expire Saturday. Under the latest bill, many people would be eligible for an additional 11 weeks — for a total of 50 weeks, according to reports.

The $900 billion pandemic relief package also would provide a $300 weekly supplemental jobless benefit through mid-March.

In New Hampshire, more than 42,000 people were collecting unemployment under state and federal programs as reported last week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lavers said. He said he wanted to see the final language before saying whether all 42,000 current recipients would be eligible.

The pandemic and its economic damage pushed New Hampshire’s unemployment rate to 17.1% in April. It has steadily declined, to 3.8% in November. But some people are working fewer hours or for less pay — or have dropped out of the labor force completely.

Among other things, the package contains $166 billion to provide $600 stimulus checks to most Americans, $120 billion in extra payments to the unemployed, and nearly $300 billion in new “payroll protection” loans for companies that keep employees on the books, according to Reuters.

New Hampshire’s average unemployment payment stood at $283.63 a week in November with a maximum of $427.

Earlier this year, unemployment recipients received $600 weekly supplemental payments during the summer and then got several $300 weekly supplements.

Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project in Washington, D.C., said the extra $300 a week will help “quite a bit.”

If the average weekly benefits nationally are around $370, the $300 supplemental benefit would nearly double that.

“Hopefully, this is still enough, so that people can afford to make good decisions about not having to accept unsafe work, putting pressure on workplaces to encourage greater caution around workers safety,” Evermore said.

Still, she called the deal “too little, too late” and expected many states would need to delay paying recipients a few weeks to incorporate the changes.

“Hopefully they (recipients) have access to some credit, and states can stand up new benefits before February rent is due,” she said. “I am hearing, however, that isn’t the case for everyone, and people are going hungry and without heat.”

She expects a push for another pandemic relief bill will come in 2021.

“There has to be,” she said. “The pandemic and recession will not be over in March. But I am sure we will see another instance of negotiating right up until the deadline and leaving claimants uncertain.”

What’s Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire’s workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.

Contact reporter Michael Cousineau at mcousineau@unionleader.com. To read stories in the series, visit unionleader.com/whatsworking.

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