Gov. Sununu, Democratic Lawmakers Hash Out Protections For N.H. Residents Affected By Coronavirus

Mar 12, 2020

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Governor Sununu and Democrats in the New Hampshire Senate are each proposing changes to state law to address fallout from the new coronavirus disease COVID-19.

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In a letter to House Speaker Steve Shurtleff and Senate President Donna Soucy, Sununu said, “As the events surrounding COVID-19 develop, I feel we must do all we can to protect the citizens of New Hampshire.”

“We look forward to working with Governor Sununu and state agencies to ensure the wise use of taxpayer money, including enhancing and advancing the coronavirus testing capacity here in New Hampshire,” said Soucy in a statement.

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Unemployment benefits are a priority for both the governor and senate Democrats. Sununu wants to eliminate the waiting period for any benefits to kick in, and to extend benefits to workers under quarantine - people needing to stay home to take care of themselves due to a COVID-19 related illness or to take care of an ill family member or dependent.

All provisions would apply to the self-employed.

“Those who do not have access to paid time off through their employer need immediate financial relief to be able to continue to pay their monthly bills,” Sununu wrote.

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Democrats are calling for benefits for quarantined workers and small business owners. They’ve scheduled a March 17th public hearing on their bill.

They’ve yet to release the text of the bill, but say it will include a provision to waive cost-sharing for state workers for coronavirus testing and treatment and job protections for people under quarantine. It will also require Sununu to seek a federal waiver under Medicaid to cover testing and treatment costs for the uninsured.

“There are concrete steps we can take in New Hampshire to curb the impact of coronavirus, protect our citizens, protect quarantined workers, and protect public health,” Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes (D-Concord) said.

“We have asked the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services for any and all additional legislative changes they may need to help do their job.”

In his letter to top Democrats, Sununu expressed confidence that cooperation would ensue when it comes to COVID-19, but he did lay down one specific request - that any COVID-19-related benefits paid to workers be charged directly to the unemployment compensation trust fund, without any impact on the tax rate of employers.

“It would be unfair to businesses and further hamper employment growth if businesses were forced to bear the financial burden of paying additional benefits through resulting increased tax rates,” Sununu said.