Senate Committee Hears Testimony on Bills to Help Unemployed

CONCORD – Two bills designed to shore up the safety net for the unemployed won approval today from the Senate Commerce, Labor and Consumer Protection Committee.

Senate Bill 144 would allow certain people who are forced to leave work because of a medical issue or physical disability to collect unemployment benefits — but it would protect employers from being charged for those benefits.

Senator Maggie Hassan (D-Exeter) said these terminations are not considered voluntary on the part of the worker but neither did she believe an employer should be penalized.

Senate Bill 170 would allow people who are laid off to collect unemployment benefits under some circumstances if they are trying to set up their own business.

“This seems to me a glaring omission in our unemployment laws in a state that – perhaps more than any other – values entrepreneurialism. We really should be supporting those who take the challenge of unemployment to start their own business. They could end up providing new jobs for others,” Hassan said.

The legislation would be limited in who could qualify and would require those enrolled to demonstrate to the Department of Employment Security ongoing progress in setting up and running a business.

Maria Dalterio, lawyer for the Department of Employment Security, said this has been successful in other states including Maine, New Jersey and New York. New York found that two to three years after entering the program 58 percent of those involved were fully or at least partly supported by earnings as a self-employed person, she said.

In the case of workers who become partially disabled, the situation is rare, according to Dalterio. Those who qualify for benefits must still meet other conditions including a continued willingness to seek work. These are for cases where an employee cannot do the job for which he or she was hired, but is still able to work in another capacity, she said.

Dalterio said the draw on the unemployment trust fund as the result of these two bills is relatively minor given the overall size of the fund of about $155 million.