Starting this fall, seasonal workers in New Hampshire will find a new set of rules when they apply for unemployment benefits. Since 2002, seasonal workers who were rehired each year by the same employer have been able to collect unemployment benefits during the off-season without looking for other work. According to a New Hampshire Employment Security report, that 2002 exemption was based on complaints from year-round employers in the state who felt that “the work search requirement amounted to a complete waste of their time accepting applications from seasonal workers who had no intention of remaining employed with them once the seasonal employer recalled them to work.”
But as the state worries about the solvency of their unemployment trust fund – the account into which all unemployment taxes are paid, and all benefits are paid out of – that kind of benefit is looking more and more like “a 16 week paid vacation” to Department of Employment Security employees like Unemployment Compensation Bureau director, Dianne Carpenter.
Although better off than most states, Carpenter says, New Hampshire’s trust fund was completely depleted at the height of the recession, when the state was paying out roughly $510,000 to about 40,000 people every week. Eventually the state had to borrow funds from the federal government to keep up – which meant paying interest on the loan. Now, the trust fund is at a healthier $180 million. But “to be able to weather the next recession,” Carpenter says, “we have to build it up to $350 or $400 million.”
Carpenter and the DES are hoping the new policies will help them reach that goal — with more taxes flowing into the trust fund, and fewer benefits paid out. But when other states’ seasonal employment rules changed earlier this year, things didn’t go over so smoothly. According to WTOC in Savannah, GA, the Teamsters Union there rallied and protested all summer, ultimately resulting in a U.S. Department of Labor reversal of the state’s changes.
New Hampshire’s seasonal unemployment rules go into effect on October 7.