LACONIA — A $600-per-week federal enhancement of unemployment compensation is about to end while differing factions argue on what should replace it, if anything.
Congress is working on the issue as part of the next round of pandemic relief. Unemployment compensation appears to be a key sticking point.
New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, said in response to a question from The Laconia Daily Sun, that unemployed workers should continue to receive some form of boosted support. The $600 increase is technically set to expire July 31, but effectively ends this weekend because of the way benefits are calculated.
Some workers are making marginally more on unemployment than they made on the job. Business leaders and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu say this acts as a disincentive for people to return to work.
Sununu has said he “nearly fell out of my chair” when he heard about the $600 boost in compensation.
Sen. Maggie Hassan has called for an extension of strengthened unemployment insurance, while not specifying a dollar amount. She also supports more individual relief payments and more aid to businesses.
Laura Epstein, her spokeswoman, said the additional unemployment compensation “has been a lifeline for Granite State families and that the senator has been pushing for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to negotiate the next package of relief.
Republican leaders are to unveil their plan next week.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen criticized McConnell.
“It’s completely unacceptable that Mitch McConnell has allowed enhanced benefits to expire with no proposal to help these families,” she said. “Enhanced unemployment insurance has helped Granite Staters pay their rent and mortgages, and put food on the table.
“However, I've heard how this benefit has caused workforce shortages in some industries. It’s long past time for Republicans and Democrats to hammer out another bipartisan agreement to extend benefits in a bipartisan way – Republican leadership needs to let these negotiations begin immediately and not waste any more time.”
Rep. Chris Pappas said he voted for enhanced unemployment benefits.
“I believe we should extend this support as soon as possible for those who can’t safely return to work,” he said. “As conditions improve in the coming months, we need to provide guidelines and support to enable businesses to safely reopen while scaling back unemployment assistance as our Main Street economy gets moving again and workers return to their jobs.”
Rep. Annie Kuster said she voted for an extension of the $600 weekly supplement as part of a bill that passed the House but was not acted on in the Senate.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many Granite Staters have been depending on these enhanced unemployment benefits to make ends meet,” she said. “As our state continues to recover and our economy reopens, we must ensure that workplaces are safe and take steps to ensure that New Hampshire workers can get back to work without fear.”
The unemployment rate for June was 11.8 percent in New Hampshire, which has a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Maine has a minimum wage of $11. It’s $10.50 in Rhode Island and $12 in Connecticut as of Sept. 1, $12 in Massachusetts and $10.78 in Vermont.
The New Hampshire Legislature passed a bill this year that would increase it to $10 per hour in 2021 and $12 in 2023.
Gov. Sununu vetoed it Friday.
“In case after case across the country, we have seen that artificial increases in the minimum wage have negative unintended consequences on the very workers that those policies are designed to support,” he said in his veto message. “Workers often have reduced take-home pay as their hours are reduced or their jobs are eliminated.
“Now is exactly the wrong time to pursue policies that will reduce the chances of Granite Staters being able to get back to work and that will further hinder our employers who are already struggling in this global pandemic.”
Democratic Governors Association National Press Secretary Jerusalem Demsas said a minimum wage increase would directly help 115,000 New Hampshire residents.