Citing a low unemployment rate and businesses hungry for workers, Gov. Chris Sununu has begun rolling back essentially all of New Hampshire’s pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
Sununu announced Tuesday that he will end the $300 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits on June 19, as well as other benefit programs aimed at self-employed and gig workers. All of those programs were ushered in more than a year ago in response to the blow to the economy in the early weeks of the pandemic.
Sununu also announced a new incentive meant to encourage unemployed residents to re-enter the workforce: starting Tuesday, people who take a new job and hold it for eight consecutive weeks will be eligible for a one-time cash bonus: $1,000 for those working full-time, and $500 for part-timers.
The payments, which will be covered by $10 million in federal relief money, will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis and limited to workers earning $25 per hour or less, Sununu said.
“There are plenty of jobs, and we really want people to get back out there,” Sununu said at a Concord press conference.
Sununu said approximately 14,000 open positions are advertised in the state, while more than 35,000 people are collecting the enhanced unemployment benefits.
New Hampshire joins more than 20 other Republican-controlled states that have moved in recent weeks to curtail employment benefits begun during the pandemic, arguing that the extra benefits are incentivizing low-wage workers to remain unemployed. Under the American Rescue Plan, the federal government is offering to extend the $300 additional stipend through Labor Day.
Sununu previously announced that, beginning next week, people collecting unemployment will again be required to actively search for a job. The state had paused that requirement through much of the pandemic. Sununu said anyone hesitant to go back to work because of COVID-19 has had ample time to get vaccinated.
“If you are not willing to get vaccinated, and you are still concerned about re-entering the workforce: if not now, then when?” Sununu said.
The latest report from the New Hampshire Employment Security, also released Tuesday, showed the state’s unemployment rate 2.8 percent, down from 3 percent in March. That’s well below one year ago, when unemployment hit 16 percent, at the peak of the pandemic’s economic impact.
The same state report showed that New Hampshire saw the total number of employed residents actually decline by nearly 500 last month, andthe total state workforce also shrank, a sign of continued uneasein the labor market.
Numerous industries are facing a hiring crunch as they look to fill positions ahead of the busy summer tourist season. The shortages are particularly acute in the service sector, including restaurants and retail.
This story was first published by New Hampshire Public Radio.