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New Hampshire’s congressional delegation says Executive Council should reconsider federal aid rejection

A COVID-19 vaccine in a vile
Todd Bookman

Members of the delegation were joined by public health and hospital officials from across the state for a Zoom press conference where they called the council’s votes earlier this month “reckless” and contrary to the public health interests of the state.

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“The move by the Executive Council was clearly not based on science or facts,” said Rep. Chris Pappas.

In a pair of 4-1 votes earlier this month, the Republican majority on the Executive Council rejected the federal money, citing concerns about vaccine mandates and other objections. Officials with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services have said that money is essential to the state’s vaccination plans.

In Monday’s call, Sen. Maggie Hassan said the state’s congressional delegation is still trying to facilitate access to the rejected vaccine money through “a workaround,” but she stressed that the council’s decision to turn away the funding from the Centers for Disease Control put New Hampshire in a unique situation.

“None of us, when we were crafting the legislation, nor did the CDC, think any state would ever refuse this money, and in fact, right now New Hampshire is the only state in the country to have refused these dollars,” Hassan said.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, had urged the Executive Council to approve the federal contracts; on the day the council rejected the money, Sununu said Republicans showed “a reckless disregard for the lives we are losing while they turn away the tools our state needs to fight and win this battle against COVID.”

His administration has since tried to secure other federal vaccine funding. Last week, the Legislature’s Fiscal Committeeapproved the receipt of nearly $4.7 million as a way to compensate for the money rejected by the Executive Council.

That same day, the state’s top health official, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, said the Sununu administration is working on finding still more federal vaccine money.

But she also told lawmakers that the rejection of $27 million will affect overall vaccination efforts, including the state’s effort to inoculate children from COVID-19 beginning next month.

Health providers say turning down federal vaccine money will only add pressure to staffing issues across the state’s healthcare system, particularly as colder weather approaches.

“We need the dollars, in terms of giving vaccines, but also in terms of educating,” said Dr. Don Caruso, CEO of Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. “There are people out there who I believe are still educatable, who will move forward with a lot of information.”

Whether Sununu can muster enough support for the rejected funding to make another attempt at getting in through the council is an open question. His office did not respond to questions about whether he plans to resubmit the contract before the council.

But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen says, while the delegation will continue to work in Washington to ensure the state has the resources to fight COVID, the problem is one Sununu needs to solve in Concord.

“We’ve done our job,” Shaheen said. “The federal delegation got the money that the state of New Hampshire said it needed. Now it’s time for the governor and the Republican Executive Councilors to do their jobs, and protect the health and safety of the people of this state.”

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