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Bill gives NH jobless benefits while starting biz

Norma Love, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire's House sent Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan a bill Wednesday that will allow a small group of jobless workers to continue to get unemployment benefits while they work to start their own businesses.

Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said the governor was a co-sponsor of a similar bill when she was in the Senate and will sign the latest version.

The Democratically controlled House voted 183-149 to pass the bill over Republican objections the bill would loosen reporting requirements for the jobless workers chosen for the program.

House Republican Leader Gene Chandler said the bill unfairly made exceptions "for a small set of people, including giving benefits to someone without asking them to prove they are continuing to look for work, or allowing them to collect benefits while being able to earn unlimited income through their start-up business."

But supporters said only a few workers would qualify for the special treatment. Only 2.5 percent of unemployed workers could participate at any given time. State Rep. Sally Kelly, D-Chichester, estimated that would be about 250 people.

The bill, called Pathway to Work, would require the workers to work with the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center to create a business plan, receive business counseling and training.

Opponents argued the bill would allow the workers to make unlimited money while receiving benefits and could mean a worker laid off by a business would receive subsidized help to compete with the employer who laid off the worker.

But state Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, said the program is aimed at workers who are unlikely to find jobs in their field and likely will exhaust unemployment benefits.

Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, the bill's prime sponsor, said the idea is to help the workers start businesses and hire others.

"This will allow them to have access to resources and training needed to establish a business and become self-employed," said Larsen of Concord.

The bill was the top legislative priority for Senate Democrats, but passed the Republican controlled Senate on a bipartisan 19-5 vote. Larsen said Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Louisiana have similar programs.