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Hanover street shoppers favor extension of jobless benefits

  • Quinn McCaffery, 17, of Hanover, N.H., left, Sophie Caulfield, 17, of Lyme, N.H., and Noelle Mosher, 17, of Norwich, Vt., eat breakfast during Hanover's sidewalk sale Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. All were wearing masks but occasionally slipped them off to eat or drink. The three said they did not know about the sidewalk sale before arriving downtown but thought they might do a little shopping. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sue Reed, left, and Pam Crandall, both of Hanover, N.H., clap for Doug Lantz and Scott Stone, who were playing music during Hanover's sidewalk sale Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. Crandall said she had come to see them play and was comfortable with the number of people downtown for the event. "If there were tons of people I would not have stayed," she said, adding that the town has done a nice job with social distancing. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 8/1/2020 9:32:18 PM
Modified: 8/2/2020 9:19:57 PM

HANOVER — Sidewalk shoppers to U.S. lawmakers: Don’t cut off the jobless benefits that have been a lifeline to unemployed workers during the pandemic.

That was the message from most passersby at a sidewalk sale in Hanover on Saturday, the first day after the expiration of federal stimulus put in place after the virus wreaked havoc on the economy, including an additional $600 in weekly unemployment payments.

“I feel strongly it should continue because it props up the economy and our most vulnerable citizens, without which they would be facing really severe hardship,” said Jeff Sharpe, who runs Sustainable Summer, a nonprofit that offers summer programs in environmental education for teens at Dartmouth College.

Sharpe, who lives in Brooklyn but was in Hanover for the weekend for his nonprofit — which was suspended this summer because of the pandemic — believes the “net benefits” of the payments outweigh concerns they may provide an incentive for recipients not to return to work.

Hanover’s South Main Street bustled Saturday with shoppers coming out to take advantage of the marked-down prices merchants put on their wares, many of which were displayed on tables and hanging racks on the sidewalk. Although downtown Hanover has seen several businesses and restaurants close this year, there is a new store on the block: fast-growing British apparel chain FatFace opened its latest U.S. location in Hanover on Friday, after being delayed for four months due to coronavirus, with store manager Doran Brandt welcoming customers at the door.

The scene of strolling shoppers — most people were wearing face masks — under Saturday’s sunny skies nonetheless belied the anxiety for tens of millions of people who are still out of work and saw their extra unemployment money expire last week. Democratic lawmakers and the White House were working over the weekend to see if they could reach an agreement on the relief program, but were reportedly still far apart on Saturday.

Critics of the $600 payments contend that, coupled with state unemployment payments, they exceed what many recipients earned before they were out of work, therefore acting as a disincentive to return.

That’s not an argument some accept.

“Absolutely, a resounding yes,” Jill Butler, owner of boutique The J List, said when asked whether the $600 payments should continue. “There is every reason the government should continue with it.”

Some suggested, however, that the program should be more carefully designed to take recipients’ situations into account.

Sharon Schuler, a Dartmouth alumna who said she runs strategy and operations for a national retailer with 5,000 employees, said her company has “had a hard time hiring back people” because some workers now get more money from government benefits.

“That is real,” she said.

Instead, Schuler said, she would support benefit payments based on a “pro rata scale” tied, for example, to the recipient’s income level, rather than the “flat rate, where it sometimes definitely exceeds what someone makes.”

William Lewis, a retired chief financial officer of a publicly traded company who was sitting on a bench outside on South Street, agreed that an extension of the program should be designed so people do not make more money by not working.

“We cannot get people to come back to work here because they are making more money by staying home,” he said, talking about a small family business that he did not want to identify. “My son has a business in Colorado, and they won’t come back to work,” noting that $600 per week equates to $15 per hour for a 40-hour week, more than many small employers can afford to pay.

Lewis, a Dartmouth alumnus who retired to Hanover, said he would favor relief that would be “something less than their salary ... there could be a variety of options.”

But Lewis appeared to be in the minority of a random sampling of people surveyed along South Main Street on Saturday.

Ted Stratton, who works as a residential life adviser at Dartmouth, said the renewed surge in the spread of the virus is making it dangerous for many people to return to work without jeopardizing their health, and that is a reason some choose to stay home.

“We shouldn’t have to put people in harm’s way,” he said.

He also saw both economic and social reasons to continue with the $600 per week payments.

“Without it, we’re going to see an increase in evictions, and I think the economy will take even a bigger nosedive,” he said.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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