CONCORD — For thousands of out-of-work New Hampshire residents, a presidential executive order on Aug. 6 held the promise of $400 per week in additional unemployment compensation.
But, in the week since the order was issued, it has become increasingly clear that it could take quite a while before the extra money comes.
At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu said guidelines and guidance for participating in the program are not well defined.
“It’s an opportunity, but it was an absolute curveball,” he said. “It was nothing that was discussed with governors. It came out of left field.”
Under the executive order, governors are to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding, with the federal government covering $300 of the increased compensation and the state providing an additional $100.
Sununu said it’s not clear what source of funding would be best for the state to use to provide this $100.
In an email Wednesday, Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security, said the state is working to better understand the executive order.
“We continue to evaluate the new benefit discussed in the president’s executive order,” he said.
“We have been provided with some additional details this week but are waiting for the written guidance so that we can better understand who would potentially be eligible and whether there will be a financial commitment required from the state.”
The executive order says the enhanced unemployment benefits are retroactive until August 1 and will continue until December 6 if funding is sufficient.
An earlier $600 per week federally funded boost in unemployment compensation ran out at the end of July. Congress hasn’t been able to come up with a new coronavirus relief plan and members aren’t expected to come back to Washington until next month.
The executive order says the state contribution is to come from the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the federal CARES Act “or other state funding.”
Unlike the previous federal enhancement, workers receiving less than $100 per week in unemployment compensation would not receive the increased benefit.
Lavers said that, prior to the pandemic, the average unemployment benefit in the state was about $330 per week. The maximum amount was $427 a week.
With the $600 enhancement, some ended up with a level of pay higher than what they were earning when they were employed. Some businesses complained that this was acting as a disincentive for people to return to work.
In a news release Thursday, New Hampshire Unemployment Security said initial claims for unemployment in the state decreased by 221 to 2,430 (or -8%) during the week ending Aug. 8, compared to a revised 2,651 during the week ended Aug. 1.
Nationally, initial claims decreased by 16 percent compared to the previous week on a not seasonally adjusted basis. Six states, led by Nevada (+6,915) and Kansas (+2,384), experienced an increase in initial claims during the week compared to the week ended Aug. 1.
New Hampshire’s “Covid-19 Affected Unemployment Rate” was 8.2 percent, compared to 11.4 percent in Belknap County. This rate is based on claims from people who live and work in New Hampshire and is calculated with February labor force numbers.
A total of 9,558 unemployment claims were filed in Belknap County from March 5 to Aug. 1.
It appears that more workers in New Hampshire who have been returning to their jobs are doing so remotely.
“Weekday trips to workplaces in the state are still 34 percent below pre-pandemic levels, a percentage that has barely changed even as the number of continued claims has been falling steadily, and the percentage of workers who have not returned to work is under 10 percent,” the release stated.