Special Broadcast: Checking In On N.H. Unemployment

Apr 22, 2020

Credit AMTEC PHOTOS VIA FLICKR / CC BY-SA 2.0

The coronavirus pandemic has left thousands of Granite Staters suddenly out of work, furloughed, or with reduced hours. The state is seeing a record number of unemployment claims. The Exchange will air a special extended hour Thursday at 1 p.m., as we answer your questions about unemployment. What's been your experience navigating the system?

Air date: 1 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 2020 


GUESTS:

  • Rich Lavers - Deputy Commissioner, New Hampshire Employment Security
  • Todd Bookman - NHPR reporter

 

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Peter Biello:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Peter Biello and this is a special edition of The Exchange.

Peter Biello:
Americans are filing for unemployment in record numbers. Just last week, 4.4 million people applied for unemployment benefits. That brings the number of people who have filed for unemployment nationwide in the past five weeks to 26 million. With businesses closed and stay at home orders in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, more Granite Staters are likely to apply. This afternoon, we're taking your calls on a special edition of The Exchange focusing on unemployment. We're looking at how the system is working. And we want to know how it's working for you. Give us a call now.

Peter Biello:
And joining us for this hour is Richard Lavers employment security deputy commissioner for the state of New Hampshire. Thank you very much for speaking with me. Hi, Peter. Good afternoon. And also with us today by Skype is NHPR's Todd Bookman, who's been covering unemployment and economic trends during the Corona virus pandemic. Todd, thank you for being here. Hi, Peter. Again, listeners, your unemployment questions or your stories? Welcome 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. And I wanted to start with you, Richard Lavers. And let's talk about a few basics, starting with qualification. Who qualifies for unemployment right now?

Rich Lavers:
All right. So with the expanded eligibility that the governor put in place back on March 17th, which was really ahead of what other states bordering New Hampshire were doing, expanded eligibility for a lot of folks that previously would not have been able to file and collect unemployment.

Rich Lavers:
So we're talking individuals that needed to stay home to take care of dependent because the school being closed or because child care not being available, someone who has six of six themselves or someone that needed to take care of a family member who was sick with COVID-19 and also those that were unable to go to work either based on direction from a health care provider or a public health official, or those that felt that they needed to self-quarantine and were unable to work. So all of those individuals in those types of categories who previously would not have been able to file for unemployment with the emergency order that the governor put in place on March 17th have been able to file since that point in time.

Peter Biello:
And we just learned this morning that another 19,000 unemployment claims were filed in New Hampshire last week. That's down a bit from the previous week, which saw 25,000 new claims. Can you just put that into context for us, what this kind of surge for your office is like? How how are you dealing with it?

Rich Lavers:
So first, Peter, on those numbers, it's a positive sign in the numbers that we've seen over these last two weeks. Over these last two weeks, we've seen about a 50 percent drop in our number of new claims.

Rich Lavers:
So we hope that that continues with the current week that we're in and that we've seen our peak in terms of the number of new claims over this time period. We've seen over a hundred and forty four thousand new claims for unemployment in the first week of the pandemic. We had nearly 30000 claims the week prior to that.

Rich Lavers:
So the week immediately prior to that, we had just under six hundred claims. And for the for the better part of the last four years, that's what New Hampshire had been seeing.

Rich Lavers:
You know, we've had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country for the last four years. Our labor force has been at its peak in the history of the state. So more people had been working in New Hampshire than ever before. So we started at a very high point with a very robust economy and a very low unemployment rate, which I believe is what explains the percentage increase that we've had in unemployment in comparison to other states. I know there's been a lot that has been made of that. I do think it is a positive sign. And how effectively New Hampshire has been able to quarantine following the leadership of the governor, how effective the the business community and residents of New Hampshire, how serious they've taken covered 19 and how effectively they've quarantined. And we know that there are there are there are tools that need to be made available in order for individuals to be able to quarantine and unemployment insurance and the benefits that we've been paying out. Are one of those tools that have enabled individuals to follow that instruction. And for New Hampshire to avoid a lot of what for the most part has been dramatic spikes and covered 19 covered 19 cases that we've seen in the northeast.

Peter Biello:
And we're gonna get into the mechanics of getting those payments in. And how much they might be in a little bit, but I do want to bring in as many callers as possible. We've got plenty of people lining up to ask you questions. Richard Lavers, let's start with Cheryl in Greenland. Cheryl, thank you very much for calling. What's your question?

Caller:
My question is, I'm self-employed and I've been filing since the end of March and I still not received a paycheck. And curious as to what the status of that is. .

Rich Lavers:
So, Cheryl. So with self-employed, the self-employed folks were not previously part of the unemployment system. They weren't required to pay into a fund which provides the benefits. But that was one of the groups that eligibility was expanded for many, if not most self-employed individuals are currently being paid. There's some underlying circumstances that could affect an individual's eligibility. That obviously was Cheryl. I'll be able to get your information off line and make sure that we're able to have a conversation later on today.

Peter Biello:
But there's no across the board delay for people who are self-employed. It may be Cheryl's particular circumstances.

Rich Lavers:
There are some there are some circumstances that have delayed payment for some. So we ask for self-employed to provide us with their net earnings from 2019, because in order to determine what an individual's weekly benefit amount is going to be, the unemployment system utilizes your earnings from what we call a base period. So we can just think of that as 2019 in this case.

Rich Lavers:
So we ask people to provide us with their net earnings from 2019 and they self-certify us to those earnings. So if someone didn't have any earnings for 2019 or had insufficient earnings, that being below twenty eight hundred dollars during that time period, some of those individuals would not have received benefits yet.

Rich Lavers:
But I can tell you, Peter, that we actually have a solution going into our system that was supposed to happen last night that we put off until tonight. That is going to take care of individuals that fall into that group so that we'll be able to get them in at that minimum weekly benefit amount.

Peter Biello:
And how quickly will that system be working for folks like like Cheryl, who may have been waiting since the the end of March, which is now more than three weeks away?

Rich Lavers:
Yeah. So it's it's tough to talk and comment about. I obviously don't want to talk about a specific individual, but each unemployment claim, Peter, is is unique. And in that situation and some of the issues that could impact your claim are different from person to person. So if that were the only issue that we're holding up payment in this instance, then those payments would go out tomorrow.

Rich Lavers:
Again, there could be other issues that were impacting eligibility because remember, even though we have expanded eligibility right now and a lot of people are taking advantage of that. That doesn't mean that everyone who applies is still eligible. You still need to have demonstrated some attachment to the workforce having having been in employment. So folks that have no employment have no earnings that are now trying to file for benefits. And a lot of those cases, obviously, where it's an unemployment program and if you haven't had any employment, then those folks wouldn't be eligible.

Peter Biello:
Okay. And let's go to the phones again. Let's talk to Dottie in Tamworth. Dottie. Thank you very much for calling.

Caller:
Oh, hi. Can you hear me?

Peter Biello:
Sure can. What's your question?

Caller:
Ok. All right. My question is, this is actually for my for my son, not for myself. I'm retired and all that jazz. But he is a graphic designer, 31 years old. And basically over the last year, I know I paid a lot in taxes, but he has only had contract work, basically. So catch with catch can, which is often the case in that he doesn't receive a W2. And I think it's 1099. I couldn't at court. No reason to clarify that. But he went to his he talked with his regular CPA who said no, he would not be eligible for unemployment, receive any unemployment insurance because he doesn't he doesn't even paid with W-2, which I thought sounded kind of weird to me. But I'm calling for clarification on that.

Peter Biello:
Well, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Richard Lavers.

Rich Lavers:
Yes, Dottie. And in that case, someone in that case would be considered self-employed. So the CPA that your son had spoken to previously would have been correct up until March 17th. But as of March 17th, with the governor's emergency order, eligibility was created for self-employed individuals. So I would encourage your son to go on our Web site at w w w dot n h e s dot n h dot gov and click on the red button for file a claim for benefits. And if he has any questions with that, he can contact our hotline which is at 2 7 1 seventy seven hundred. And we have folks that are sitting waiting for calls from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Rich Lavers:
We have about 200 individuals that are taking calls. A lot of those folks are men and women from the New Hampshire National Guard. So they'll be able to provide assistance with answering some of his questions. But most likely, I expect that he'll have no problem going onto the Web site, navigating the application and getting that initial claim filed.

Peter Biello:
And Richard Lavers, you said that folks like Daddy's son would have to self-certify their income.

Rich Lavers:
Correct. So where our, Peter, our service delivery model is been really flipped upside down by the pandemic, as have a lot of businesses, which I understand. But the way that we provided service in the past was through our network of 12 New Hampshire works offices around the state. Individuals were able to come in and ask questions about unemployment. Sit down in one of our resource centers with with a free computers to go on file their claim all the while with an individual from our office really sitting over their shoulder, assisting them with that claim and answering questions.

Rich Lavers:
And because of COVID 19, obviously that came to an abrupt end. So we have the hotline has been up. The hotline has been up since March 17th. We've received almost 164 thousand calls at that hotline. And then folks can file at any point on the Web site. And because we don't want to or can't really have individuals be coming in and providing documentation for some that we won't have their earnings in our system because they previously were not part of the unemployment system and didn't have to report their wages. We ask that they self-certify as part of the application process for their earnings for those that are in the self-employed category.

Peter Biello:
And they have to after they self-certify, will they have to at some point prove that what they said they made in 2019 is actually what they made. Will they have to show you their 2019 federal tax return for example?

Rich Lavers:
So we're not asking for that at the time of application because we don't want it to slow down eligibility and payment to the extent that they're eligible. But they are told that they need to be ready to to provide that information when asked down the road at a more appropriate time when we're not at where we are right now with dealing with the pandemic.

Peter Biello:
Listeners, give us a call if you have a question or a story about filing for unemployment. I'd like to turn to NHPR's Todd Bookman for a moment. He's still with us by Skype. Todd, you've been doing some reporting on this and you've spoken with applicants who don't describe what could be called a seamless application process. What one of the people you've spoken to who've been finding.

Todd Bookman:
Yeah, that's right. Peter, I interviewed someone just yesterday, a woman named Sarah Piedmont. She's an out-of-work restaurant server. This is somebody who's in her 20s. She's tech savvy and this is how she described the the online system.

News Sound:
It looks like they mash together like five different websites from 2001. I could not imagine my own mother. I knew that Web site would be a nightmare.

Peter Biello:
Ouch. That's pretty critical.

Todd Bookman:
Yeah, not exactly a glowing review. And I don't know, Mr. Lavers, if you want to comment on that. Do you believe that the Web site is working as official as efficiently as it as it could?

Rich Lavers:
Yeah, I'd take particular exception to that comment. I think the Web, I think the Web site's been working very well. When you look around the country and you have states that have repeatedly had their systems crashing and you've seen pictures of individuals initially at the height of the filing activity that we're having, having to file in-person on paper and standing in lines outside of unemployment offices. You didn't see any of that in New Hampshire. And that's because our system, although we have sustained significant volume on that and there have been some temporary disruptions where we've had brief outages related to that volume. By and large, the system has stayed up and functioned well. We've processed, like I had mentioned, over 140000 claims. We've had issued over two hundred and forty six thousand payments in that in that short period of time. So I don't know what the what that listener was referring to is the difficulty.

Rich Lavers:
I can tell you that I'm constantly going on the Web site to make sure and verify for myself that what I'm being told in terms of performance is accurate. I actually went on on a Friday afternoon during one of our highest weeks in terms of number of new claims. And I filed at 1 o'clock in the afternoon and I filed a new initial claim and it took me 11 minutes and 22 seconds from start to finish. So I think our system has been functioning well. So I would take exception to that comment.

Todd Bookman:
I want to ask one other question, which is that we heard from a number of folks about long hold times, and you already mentioned that the staff has worked diligently to bring more people onboard. Could you give us a sense of right now somebody called the hotline with the question what the average hold time is?

Rich Lavers:
Yeah. So right now, I mean, looking at what we have of the average whole time today or the longest I'm sorry, the longest time someone's been on hold has been 25 minutes. We've had about forty three hundred individuals call into the hotline today. Again, longest whole time was 25 minutes. And I can tell you that starting at about 4:30 every day, the calls drop off of they drop off a cliff and there is nobody in wait. And we have people ready and willing to speak, but we don't get much call volume after that 4:30.

Rich Lavers:
So I understand some folks with their frustration because the 25 minute wait time that people have experienced today, that had been a longer wait time last week, but we were able to bring on additional call centers over the weekend with more men and women from the New Hampshire National Guard. That was a very important piece of this, our ability to respond appropriately. From Governor Sununu. So we brought on that additional capacity. And to the extent someone's been frustrated and had difficulty getting through the hotline, I would encourage them to try back later in the day, 4:30, five o'clock. We're open till 8 o'clock. And from what I've seen this week, those hours really have little volume of calls coming in.

Peter Biello:
That 8:00 o'clock, seven days a week or just during the week?

Rich Lavers:
Monday through Friday, Peter, And then on Saturdays and Sundays were 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Peter Biello:
Great listeners. We've got a lot of calls and we're going to try to take as many as we can. The phone number. 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Let's talk to Jessica in Conway. Jessica, you're on the air. What's your question?

Caller:
Hey, thanks so much for taking my call. I have a full time employment, which I'm totally grateful for, and I'm able to work from home for that. But I've lost my second job at a restaurant here in Conway, and so I was thinking about 20 hours a week trying to supplement my income, of course, to make ends meet and unemployment offices keep filing that eventually it will work. But I have yet to see any payment. And what I'm hearing through the grapevine is that folks who are employed full time are not eligible regardless of any attractive employment from the coveted 19. So I'm wondering if there's a gap there where folks like move from second jobs to make ends meet, aren't eligible. And just trying to get some straightforward information on that.

Peter Biello:
Good question, Jessica. Thank you very much. Richard Lavers.

Rich Lavers:
Yes, I can I can address that.

Rich Lavers:
So if an individual's currently working full time, they are unable to file and collect unemployment. That is a bright line rule. I apologize to Jessica if there had been information that had been provided to her that indicated otherwise.

Rich Lavers:
If we flip that scenario around and an individual who had lost their full time employment but was still working part time, you can still work part time in New Hampshire and collect your unemployment. So we have what we call a 30 percent disregard.

Rich Lavers:
So individuals are allowed to earn in part time employment up to 30 percent of their weekly benefit amount. So anything above that would then reduce your weekly benefit amount. Dollar for dollar. So I think if if someone were earning that at that for twenty seven, they'd be able the weekly benefit amount rather than it was at four or twenty seven. They'd be able to earn one hundred and twenty eight dollars in part time employment without it impacting their unemployment benefit. And then with each benefit, as long as you have some eligibility Peter, your eligibility could be reduced all the way down to a dollar. So you had part time earnings that reduced your benefit all the way down to a dollar as long as you have one dollar of eligibility.

Rich Lavers:
You also get the $600 federal payment on top of that dollar. And that $600 payment does not get pro-rated based upon any reduction or any earnings.

Peter Biello:
And would that $600 payment come alongside the first check that would have normally come?

Rich Lavers:
Correct. So the $600 is paid right along with your weekly benefits. That started this week. So as of last Friday night, New Hampshire started issuing those $600 payments. And in that time, less than a week, we've actually issued $98 million in $600 payments to individuals filing here in New Hampshire. I mean, a lot of those received multiple payments, Peter, because we first, the the way it was programmed in first four somebodies, most recent week, they would have got the $600 with that weekly payment. And then we went through what we call a pay adjustment process that next night. So to the extent someone had eligibility for the $600 back for a prior week, they would have gotten that payment. And those went out on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Peter Biello:
We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, we'll talk more about this and take more of your questions and comments.

Peter Biello:
Thank you very much, Commissioner Lavers, for being with us. Please stay with us. NHPR's Todd Bookman, thank you for joining us for this part of the program. Really appreciate it.

Todd Bookman:
Thank you, Peter. Thank you.

Peter Biello:
That's Todd Bookman joining us by Skype. Listeners, again, question, questions and comments. Welcome at our e-mail or call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. That's 1 800 8 9 2 and HP. This is a special live edition of The Exchange. I'm Peter Biello. We'll be right back.

Peter Biello:
This is The Exchange on NHP. I'm Peter Biello. Coming up tomorrow on the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup. We'll check in with some top state lawmakers on what they've been doing about Koven, 19. Lawmakers are making efforts to respond to the pandemic. There is bipartisan concern over damage this crisis is doing to the state budget. So how concerned are you about state finances? And what do you think state lawmakers should be doing to address the pandemic? E-mail us now exchange at NHP Traurig. That's tomorrow on the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup, live at 9:00.

Peter Biello:
Right now, we're talking about New Hampshire's unemployment insurance program with Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner for the state's Employment Security Commission. Your questions for him answered. Give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 or e-mail exchange at NHP Bar dot org.

Peter Biello:
Richard Lavers applicants for benefits are being asked to self-certify self-certification. You've gone over quite a bit. I want to ask you about people who may have just been recently furloughed or have lost their work, especially when it comes to from hospitals. Katie, a nurse from New Hampshire Hospital, says My hours have been reduced to 32 hours a week instead of 40 due to the necessity of forced reduction of staff hours. I applied for unemployment for my eight missed hours a week and I was recently told I work too much to qualify for benefits. So is there a maximum amount of hours worked that prevent someone from qualifying for unemployment?

Rich Lavers:
So they need to be working less than full time hours in their particular sector. So on on that that piece of it, then Katie would have been eligible. But it sounds like what happened with her earnings, she earned too much beyond that 30 percent disregard that we had just been talking about. So she had earned too much that reduced her benefit down to zero again because of the earnings that she had and her continued employment.

Peter Biello:
A part time job question coming in now from Christina in Franklin. Thank you very much for calling, Christina.

Caller:
Oh, you're welcome. Hi. I have a question for my son. He was working in the housekeeping at the people. Get more? Yes. People get a lot of work still open. And he only worked 16 hours Friday and Saturday and occasionally on a Sunday. And I was wondering if there's a minimum amount of hours you can work in order to collect.

Rich Lavers:
No, so there's not a minimum number of hours. But how it could impact your son. We seem to have a lot of mothers calling today on behalf of their sons. So the way it could impact them is that if he didn't have sufficient earnings during the four quarters of his base period, that there could be an initial impact. But that will that will go away with some of the new eligibility we're creating. So normally an individual needs to have earned fourteen hundred dollars in each of two quarters during that four quarter period in order to to qualify for a weekly benefit amount.

Rich Lavers:
So while it's not hourly based, it is earnings based. And the reason for that is because it's the employers pay the taxes based on wages paid to their employees. It's those tax payments that actually fund the account from which benefits are paid. So that's why it is it is operates the way that it does. If your son in this case didn't have sufficient earnings with the new federal pandemic unemployment assistance program, we are going to be able to put him in at the minimum weekly benefit amount, which will start off at $167 a week and then it gets adjusted to 168. But the good news there, if someone comes in at that 167 a week, it also provides them eligibility for the $600 in the the other federal payment.

Peter Biello:
Commissioner Lavers, we get this question from Susan, who wrote, My question concerns people whose unemployment ran out earlier in the year. My unemployment payments stopped in February and my benefit year end date is May 30th. I'm still unemployed. Am I eligible for the extra 13 weeks of unemployment insurance and the $600 per week federal payment? And if so, will they continue past May 30th?

Rich Lavers:
So that's a that's another group of folks that we do see that with folks that had exhausted benefits prior to the impacts of COVID-19, so prior to the new federal programs, they wouldn't have been eligible. But for those folks that we would refer to as exhausted as they do have eligible under the pandemic unemployment program. That is one component of the new program that we're trying to get up and running for those that had previously exhausted their benefits prior to the current crisis.

Peter Biello:
Brian had a question. Brian from Ashland. He asked, how many claims in the backlog right now? First of all, is there a backlog?

Rich Lavers:
So there's always claims that are coming in, being filed and with and there's always payments going out.

Rich Lavers:
So what we know is that the with each claim could have a series of issues that prevent it from being in payable status right away. So we've been working aggressively to get those payments out. We've actually gotten over 25000 people into payable status that had some type of issue impacting their claim. And that's a work that we've been able to get get done just this week. And in looking at those new numbers as they come in today, that would bring us up somewhere north of 80 to 90 percent of those folks that continue to file and are payable are getting paid. So not everyone that files is eligible. And not everyone that files an initial claim then continues to file continued claims because some folks go back to go back to work on their in their previous employment and don't file for it for other reasons. But we are aggressively addressing that backlog and have made some significant progress over the course of the week. And we will continue until obviously we get it. All of those claims that are eligible, but again, not all not all the claims being filed are folks that are eligible for unemployment benefits.

Peter Biello:
And if an employee is simply uncomfortable going to work right now, the company they work for is still open. But the employee is scared of catching the virus and wants to stay home. Is that person eligible for unemployment right now?

Rich Lavers:
That's that's an interesting category, Peter. And initially there was eligibility for folks that had done just that that needed that felt they needed to self-quarantine. There was some language that was passed, this part of the CARES Act that addressed that scenario somewhat differently and talked about individuals that had a need to quit employment as a direct result of COVID 19. We have asked, so when I say we, it's New Hampshire has asked the US Department of Labor for some clarification on that particular type of eligibility and asked whether or not that states are allowed to pay individuals that are quarantining as a result of a directive provided by a public health official or a health care official, or if they're allowed to self-quarantine without having received either of those.

Rich Lavers:
We haven't received that guidance yet. So right now, that individual is able to file. And if he's able to certify as to that reason for not being employed, he would be found eligible. But that could change with the guidance that comes out from the U.S. Department of Labor that the Hampshire still waiting for listeners.

Peter Biello:
Give us a call if you have a question for Richard Lavers about the state's unemployment system. The number is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. That's 1 800 8 9 2 and. We're getting a lot of calls. So if you aren't able to get through, you can always send an e-mail as well. The address is exchange at N H Nhpr.org. And let's talk to Carol calling from Massachusetts. Thanks for calling, Carol. What's on your mind?

Caller:
Yes, my son opened a claim back on March 29 and then he was certified the next couple of weeks. No problem. But then when you went to open up a claim this past weekend, it started a whole brand new claim. So now he has two.

Peter Biello:
So he's got two claims. This is in New Hampshire, right? Even though you're calling from Massachusetts.

Rich Lavers:
Yes. Yes. You got a determination that he didn't make enough money, that he's never on the work history. But he did get another determination that said you are eligible for benefits because the employer shut down because of COVID. So that was all fine and dandy out on the 14th. But then when he went to recertify in the 19th, it wouldn't let them open a brand new client. So we're concerned he's going to lose the first three weeks.

Peter Biello:
Oh, I see. Okay. Is there something in the system to account for that Richard Lavers, when someone files a first claim and then files a second claim?

Rich Lavers:
Yes. So normally, if you have someone that had all of their sufficient earnings in the base period, they would file that initial claim and then they would go in each week starting Sunday and file their weekly certification or weekly claim, just confirming that they continued to be eligible and that is what would trigger payment. There are some situations where we have I think is what we have here, where someone might not have had sufficient earnings in their base period. But then in the first quarter of this year that just just completed, they would have had qualifying wages. And so in those instances, people are advised to then file another another claim to take into consideration that additional quarter to provide them with eligibility going forward. So I it sounds like that is what is going on in this situation. But Peter, I'll try to get that information from that caller after we're done with the segment so we can make sure to look into it further.

Peter Biello:
All right, Carol. That's a personal invitation from Richard Lavers to get in touch so you can communicate about this specific case. Let's continue to take some calls here and talk to Cindy in Groton. Cindy, thank you very much for calling. You're on the air.

Caller:
Yes, hello. I'm calling. Not for my son, but for my daughter. And she's not making the phone call herself because she's so frustrated that she's afraid she might say something she shouldn't anyway. She works as a server and the restaurant was shut down the middle of March. And she also is a massage therapist and had to close that business due to the stay at home. Orders from the governor. And she has filed a claim for both the W-2 wages and the self-employment. And she has heard nothing back from employment security. When she calls the hotline, she is put through to a volunteer and the volunteers are not able to answer any questions. They are not able to access her personal account. And so she's going on for five weeks with no unemployment compensation. Her college age son is home from the school now, so she has another mouth to feed. And I'm just wondering when these people that are self-employed might start to receive some benefits.

Peter Biello:
Thank you very much for your call, Cindy. Richard Lavers, I've got a self-employed. Question again and also question about the volunteers on the other end of that phone line and not being able to answer some some questions about a person's particular account or application.

Peter Biello:
What do you think?

Rich Lavers:
Some good points there, And just first of all, Peter and Cindy, I I apologize to through you, to your daughter for the frustrating experience that she's had. We obviously are striving to do better each and every day. But my our apologies for the experience that your daughters had, individuals that are in our call centers now just to adjust that point first. They do now have access to the system in order to be able to look up the information for the person that's calling it.

Peter Biello:
And when she said volunteers as she knowingly or unknowingly referring to the folks from the National Guard who stepped in to help out.

Rich Lavers:
Yeah. And the caller wouldn't know, obviously, who that who they're talking with. They could be talking with someone who works for the department. They could be we're talking to one of the volunteers from one of the other departments that have stepped up to help employment security. Or they could be talking with one of the folks from the National Guard that are in the call centers. So we try to direct those calls as they come in or call a caller and obviously select what it is that they're talking about. And we try to match their need with the skill of the person that's handling the call. So some of your more complicated issues or some of the issues where someone wants to file a claim, those get routed to individuals that are working in all of our local offices throughout the state. They're the ones that are most familiar with the unemployment system. So those folks are the ones that are normally handling their calls. So that the situation that we have here, though, with a mixture of both W-2 employment and self-employment, there is some restrictions in place for New Hampshire, just as there are for other states.

Rich Lavers:
And while individuals that were self-employed, where they previously weren't eligible now have eligibility for their self-employment, that is only the case if you aren't otherwise eligible for state benefits. So that is a requirement from the Federal Cares Act that before a state can determine if an individual is eligible under the federal program, which includes self-employed, you have to first look to see whether that individual has state eligibility. And in this situation where an individual has both W-2 earnings and ten ninety nine earnings, those W-2 earnings provide them with eligibility for the state benefit. And so that's what we would be looking at first with this individuals.

Rich Lavers:
They would have state eligibility based upon their W-2 earnings and we would not be allowed to be looking at those self-employed earnings. That's not a New Hampshire restriction. That is a federal restriction and guidance that we have received from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Peter Biello:
Thank you very much for your question. Really appreciate it. Let's talk to gay in Loudon Gay. Thank you very much for calling. What's your question?

Caller:
Thank you. My call. So curiosity, I own a business in New Hampshire and the only employee. And have been paying into the system for 15 years. I filed my claim back in the end of March and continue to file the claim every week. Call into the hotline. Try not to do it often, but like every two weeks to get status. And I think the most frustrating thing right now is not knowing where I am in the process because I've been told an adjudicator has been given. My file, which was two or three weeks ago, and just trying to find out where the process is and where I stand it.

Rich Lavers:
Yeah, so try to. Put in a couple of buckets here. So for selfemployed that had we're able to self-certify as to their their earnings during 2019. Those folks are are being paid right now. For others that were unable to certify as they have any having any net earnings in 2019. Those folks would fall into the group that we're actually putting in a solution into our system tonight. That was supposed to go in last night. We delayed it until tonight.

Rich Lavers:
So individuals that had been have been filing that didn't have any earnings and that self-employed category. We have a fix that is going in. So I'm hopeful that when when we look at your claim tomorrow that it will have addressed those back weeks and you will be you will have been paid for all those weeks that you filed for. But I understand I understand that is has been frustrating. We are trying to get that done, obviously, as quickly as possible. But as you can see from all of the calls that we've had, there's a lot of unique circumstances within with each and every claim that comes in and doing our best to try to address each and every one of them.

Peter Biello:
Thank you very much. I really appreciate your call. We we get this note from Brian in Manchester who had this question. Brian wrote, I'm a senior citizen, full time employee of a small 100 store retail chain currently on medical leave. When the doctor approves my going back to work and I'm able to fulfill the demands of my job. Can I file if the company won't take me back?

Rich Lavers:
So that individual currently not working right now. And I believe, Peter, you said that he asked whether he could file if the company won't take him back.

Peter Biello:
That's that's what he said. If they can I file if the company won't take me back.

Rich Lavers:
He certainly can. So he would he would go he'd go online, file his claim or get some help on the hotline at 2 7 1 seventy seven hundred. And obviously he would then need to select the appropriate reason for him not working right now. And he was certified of that. Then go in each week, continue to certify, and that would trigger his payment. But that is the scenario that is covered under under the CARES Act with those COVID 19 types of eligibility.

Peter Biello:
We're spending the hour with deputy commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security, Richard Lavers.

Peter Biello:
We're talking about all things related to unemployment claims since so many more people nowadays are filing as a result of the covered pandemic, shutting down so many businesses across the state. We have a full queue right now, but call slots do open up. So keep calling if you've got a question or comment. The number is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. We're going to take as many calls as we can before the end of the hour. Again, 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. You can also e-mail your question or comment. . This is a special edition of The Exchange. I'm Peter Biello. We'll be right back.

Peter Biello:
This is a special edition of The Exchange. I'm Peter Biello and we're taking your questions on New Hampshire's unemployment system. We want to know how it's been working for you. If you have a story or questions about it, calling us is the best way to share. Our number, 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. That's 1 800 8 9 2, Right now, we're talking about the unemployment system with Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner for the State Employment Security Commission. And let's go straight to the phones and talk to Merrimack and rather Michelle in Merrimack. Michelle, thank you very much for calling. What's on your mind?

Caller:
Hey, thank you so much for taking my call. So here's my question. I worked for a couple years for a business which I chose to leave back in January. I gave a three week notice, left amicably and decided to take another job with a disabled client that I used to work with years ago. The organization that I got the job with, of course, there are background checks, things like that that you have to wait for. My new job did not start till March 10th, March 13th. I was laid off because of it. I applied for unemployment on the 15th of March have been denied since. I talked to somebody from NHS who said because I didn't work at this job long enough, they had a look at my previous job. She said unless I give her information that I left that job due to my employer's negligence or fault, that I would not be eligible at all. Is that for real?

Peter Biello:
Well, you said that this you you applied on the 15th of March. Well, Richard Lavers, I think you've been saying that the world of unemployment seemed to change on March 17th. Correct.

Rich Lavers:
Correct. That's when the emergency order went into effect.

Peter Biello:
So what do you think of Michelle's story?

Rich Lavers:
I would encourage Michelle to the end to the extent that her appeals period has expired. I would still encourage her to file an appeal if she hasn't. So that she can have an opportunity to present the further details of her prior employment reasons for leaving that job and her employment that she was with for a few days. Get her to file an appeal so that we can determine whether or not there is in fact, eligibility under any of the programs. And I would encourage her to get that in right away.

Peter Biello:
Thank you very much for the question. Michelle, really appreciate it. Richard Lavers, what is the role of the employer, if any role do the employers have to verify what their former employees or their laid off employees are saying?

Rich Lavers:
So the role of the employer is the depending on the type of separation with what we're dealing with now, there's less need for information exchanged back and forth with the employer. But all employers get notices of claims that are filed against against their account. And they have the opportunity to protest that. Obviously, if they know that the reason for separation is other than what someone has indicated on their claim, or if an employer has tried to bring somebody back and they want to protest them, continuing to be able to file. So employers are provided that information on each and every claim that is filed for their former employees.

Rich Lavers:
Right now. Of particular note for employers in the state is that the benefit charges, that the benefits that are being paid are not impacting the employer's individual account. So for-profit employers pay in to this system on a quarterly basis based upon the wages that they've paid out. And they have their own unique tax rate that is based on their experience with the unemployment system. Real simple. We look at how much they've paid in taxes, how much we've paid out in benefits to their former employees, and then that provides them with a rate at which they pay. So obviously they usually have very much an incentive to be reviewing each and every claim.

Rich Lavers:
Right now, none of those benefits are being charged against their account. So there's no negative impact on an employer's account. That was done by the governor's emergency order and has continued and make sense as really there's no opportunity to control the duration of somebodies unemployment claim in the amount of benefit charges that would otherwise have impacted an employer's account because of the nature of the pandemic. So we didn't want to penalize employers in the state for that type of situation.

Peter Biello:
Let's talk to Nate in Somersworth Worth. Nate, thank you very much for calling. What's your question?

Caller:
Hey, how's it going. My question is about eligibility. So I got laid off back in March 27 and was in fact, was found ineligible because I didn't make fourteen hundred and two quarters. Now I'm asking if I'm eligible, because at this job I had, I had for two weeks, I was laid off because of the pandemic. Now, would I be eligible for federal unemployment?

Rich Lavers:
So we'd need to have you have eligibility dependent depending on which of the federal programs we're talking about. But I don't know if we have a situation here where there might be additional wages that could be used from the first quarter or if we're going to be looking at a situation where it's just simply there were insufficient earnings in the base period. And now with the fix that we're putting into the system to correct those individuals where it could be, in fact, corrected tonight. So as long as you're continuing to go in and file your your weekly claims, I'd encourage you to get in touch with the department on the on the hotline just to see whether or not there was any additional information that they were waiting for. Waiting for from you. But to the extent it was just a lack of earnings and that was the only issue that was impacting your eligibility. That will get resolved with the solution that's going into the system tonight.

Peter Biello:
Thank you, Nate. Really appreciate the call. Let's talk to Molly in Conway. Molly, what's your question?

Caller:
Hi. Thank you for doing all you guys do. There was three of us girls that work in a non-profit here that were laid off on the same day, the end of March. All three of the file, two of us receive payments, but one still hasn't. I mean, she's definitely the one that needed it more than any of the rest of us. She's not in a bad situation. But my question is, the reason that she hasn't gotten paid is because she lives in Maine as opposed to New Hampshire. You know, she's worked in New Hampshire for the last 20 years.

Rich Lavers:
So it'd be tough to say exactly without really diving into the individual's claim. And thank you for your initial statement saying you appreciated what the folks at the department have been doing. We've talked with a lot of people and some very difficult situations and obviously we want to help them to the extent that we can. And they have eligibility. We want to do that as quickly as we possibly can there.

Rich Lavers:
The fact that that individual lives in Maine but works in New Hampshire, well, she's collecting she's filing against the correct state because you file against the state in which you were working. And there could be some other issues that are delaying that. One of the one of those issues is that folks that had received payouts from their employer at the time of separation or who have gone back in for some intermittent employment, those earnings need to be looked at because we don't want to pay unemployment benefits to someone who had an additional weeks worth of earnings and should otherwise be paid. So we are going through and taking care of each and every one of those issues. If that is, in fact, what is going on with this individual, which it sounds like that is probably the issue impacting her claim and we are going through and clearing all of those. And we expect that with the work that we've already done this week on those that we'll be able to finish with those through this weekend.

Peter Biello:
Good to note, too, that you said that people should file in the state in which they work. Not in which they live. So anybody living in the New Hampshire border, but working in New Vermont, Massachusetts or Maine should file in those states?

Rich Lavers:
Correct. They would file in the state in which they are working or working.

Peter Biello:
Okay. Let's take another call and talk to Marinda and Strafford. Marinda, thank you very much.

Caller:
Hi. Thank you for..

Peter Biello:
Oh, I think we may have lost Marinda. Well, worth noting, too, that we got some emails on the show before the show began, and some of the people who e-mailed us with questions or comments e-mailed us again to let us know that they heard from New Hampshire employment security and they were all set and they did get their payments. So it seems like people are hearing back and getting help. In some cases, though, Richard Lavers is just taking time. You've mentioned a few times on the show today that it sounds like in some ways you're fixing the plane as you fly it. You're making changes. You're making adjustments based on feedback from the community and changes to to the system itself. Yes.

Rich Lavers:
Well, I wouldn't - The description of fixing the plane as we fly, it makes it sound like we're going to crash. Right.

Peter Biello:
I didn't mean to imply that. Certainly.

Rich Lavers:
So the reason why we're implementing fixes to the system as we go is because we want to get people paid as quickly as weak as we possibly can. And folks should remember that with all of the changes that were enacted as part of the CARES Act on March twenty seventh, that the those changes then needed to be implemented by the states. The states needed to know the rules that they were going to be held accountable to from the federal government in order to implement those changes. So we are still learning some of those rules. We're still waiting for some of our questions to be answered.

Rich Lavers:
But we have been going full blast on getting those changes into our system. That's why with some of my answers, I've talked about different groups and how we're addressing it and going to get that fix. And again, we want to get these fixes into the system based on all of this new eligibility that was created so we can get benefits paid to individuals as quickly as possible. And I don't want to wait to put all of those fixes in all at one time, because that's going to delay some folks from getting paid. So we want to get them paid as quickly as possible.

Rich Lavers:
We want to do it in a responsible way so that we're not putting the system itself in jeopardy. Every change that gets put in obviously is properly vetted. You have your I.T., both I.T. people, your program people, you know, of a thoroughly reviewed business process. You thoroughly test. You test again, then you test again. And then when you're confident that it's not going to impact the system, you promote to production. So we are doing that process and that's we're doing it as we go because we want to get people paid as quickly as we can.

Peter Biello:
Okay. One last one last question for you, Richard Lavers. And that is, what is employment security doing to protect the safety of the employees and people working at the call center?

Rich Lavers:
So the people that work at employment security, the volunteers that have been been assisting, these are incredibly hardworking, dedicated people. I can't say enough about my just how impressed I am with the people that work for this department. So we've we were one of the first if not the first public facing agency that shut down our offices so that we stopped along members of the public to come into our offices. That was to protect our staff. We have screening checkpoints at each and every one of our buildings that contain a call center. So our main building here in Concord, we have a screening checkpoint. These checkpoints are operated by the National Guard where they take the temperature and ask COVID 19 related questions of individuals before they come in to the building. We have brought on additional cleaning crews that thoroughly clean our buildings with all CDC approve methods and materials each and every night.

Rich Lavers:
We have staff cleaning our buildings throughout the day, cleaning down, wiping down, frequently touch surfaces, and we're doing everything we can to promote the health and safety of our very valuable people that work for us and are doing some great work.

Peter Biello:
Well, Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner for the state's Employment Security Commission. Thank you so much for spending the hour with us. Really appreciate it.

Rich Lavers:
Peter, I appreciate the opportunity to talk to all of your listeners and get some more information out there.

Peter Biello:
And before we let you go, really quickly, quickly, remind us of the number people can call if they have questions so they can contact you directly.

Rich Lavers:
Yeah. So the hotline is 2 7 1 7 7 0 0 .

Peter Biello:
Thanks again. Richard is deputy commissioner for the State Employment Security Commission. That number again, 2 7 1 7 7 0 0. That's it for today. This has been a special edition of The Exchange. If you've got questions or comments that you still want addressed to, you can call that number or keep the conversation going on our Facebook page. The show's producers are Jessica Hunt and Christina Phillips, senior producer is Ellen GRIMM. Michael Brindley is our program manager. And our regular theme music is composed by Bob Lord Engineer today, Dan Colgan. I'm Peter Biello. Thank you very much for listening.