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Sununu details $595M COVID-19 spending; outbreak at Villa Crest

By Paula Tracy | May 16, 2020

The state announced an outbreak at Villa Crest Nursing Home in Manchester. (Photo by JEFFREY HASTINGS)

CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday announced $595 million in relief for Main Street businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, farms, higher education, and childcare from the CARES Act’s $1.25 billion awarded to the state.

Saying the apex for the need is now to help “keep the doors open” due to COVID-19, Sununu announced the grants – not loans – based on recommendations from his non-partisan GOFERR Legislative Advisory Board.

The majority of the funds, about $400 million will go to Main Street and all businesses can apply starting today and for the next two weeks at revenue.nh.gov or GOFERRNH.gov to access the pre-grant application.

It will not be first-come, first-served like the federal PPP program which ran out of money, but will consider all needs for qualified small businesses. The priority, Sununu said, will be on those whose situations are most dire due to the pandemic.

The state received $1.25 billion in federal money for relief from the impacts of closing many aspects of life for the past two months. Sununu set up an advisory board to consider and vet all aspects of the state for funding and that report was considered with most of the recommendations approved.

The money will also help with more stipends for first responders and long-term health care providers who deserve “hazard pay.”

After the $595 million is spent, there is still a balance of $400 million left to distribute, Sununu said.

State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, a gubernatorial candidate, said in a news release that when taxpayer money is being spent, especially when it goes directly to private business, the need for ethics and transparency is heightened.

“Governor Sununu, who has never committed to transparency or baseline ethics, insisted on spending the federal stimulus funds all by himself, and his history of making taxpayer decisions that favor his family’s business interests and corporate campaign contributors should ring everyone’s alarm bells,” Feltes said.

New Outbreak in Manchester

A new outbreak at a long-term care facility was also announced at Villa Crest in Manchester in which 10 residents and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19.

Several of the dozen outbreaks could come down next week as about six may be coming off the list with people recovered, said Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The spending news came on a day when the state reported a total of eight new deaths and 88 new positive COVID-19 cases across the state. Seven of the deaths were individuals who lived in long-term care facilities.

About 76 percent of the 159 deaths in the state involve elderly residents. The total number of positive COVID-19 cases in the state is now 3,464 with a 10 percent hospitalization rate. So far, 335 have been hospitalized.

She said the positive results for antibody testing are low for COVID-19 with 823 administered. Another urgent care center has joined the state as a testing partner, she said. ExpressMed in Manchester and Salem is offering both COVID-19 testing and antibody testing now, she said.

Shibinette said ideally, the state would test every health-care worker entering an extended-care facility daily but there is just not a practical way to do that yet.

“That would be ideal,” she said, and allow families and visitors to see their loved ones. But she said there is no practical way that can be done right now. The closest thing would be the Abbott test, which takes 15 to 17 minutes, but she said with a shift of 300 people coming in at 7 a.m. each day, health-care facilities would spend the entire day testing.

What the state is doing, Shibinette said, is endeavoring to test all health care workers to do a baseline and then creating a surveillance project. Shibinette said that the project is still being written.

“Our hope is we will test the vast majority of staff every 10 days,” Shibinette said.

As the state stands up more fixed testing sites, as she said she would announce next week, there will be more opportunity to test health-care workers on an ongoing basis.

CARES Act

The governor began the announcement of grant distribution by describing what has been distributed already. It totals about $250 million

It included:

– $3 million on child protective services

– $24 million for first responders added pay

– $50 million for health-care facilities

– $75 million for frontline workers’ pay

– $50 million for state agencies

– $40 million to cities and towns to help cover extra COVID-19 costs

– $ 80 million for oversight of federally mandated expenses.

He credited the “fact we were able to get it out quickly,” and thanked the GOFERR committee for their time and considered recommendations.

New Commitments

Sununu said all the new funding has come through recommendations of GOFERR with the continued expansion of funding for hospitals, nonprofits, new Main Street grants, and new money for farmers, childcare centers, front line workers, and education.

In addition to the $50 million announced two months ago to act as emergency relief to protect the doors from closing at hospitals, Sununu said the state is now doubling that to a total of $100 million.

“We really need to stand behind these institutions,” Sununu stressed. They have experienced losses estimated at more than $200 million a month. About $30 million will be earmarked for long-term care facilities “because we now realize and understand that is where the crisis points are,” Sununu said. “These facilities will have our support.”

Already $30 million of the original $50 million is spent on hospitals and an independent scoring system has been used to determine that funding based on the most need.

Hospitals have received $225 million in CARES Act funding outside of this fund, Sununu said.

Nonprofits $60M

Food shelter, health care, and educational support is handled by a lot of nonprofits across the state and they will get $60 million through the CARES Act. This is going to be administered in a partnership with the state Community Development Finance Authority, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and the NH Center for Nonprofits.

“The apex of need is now,” Sununu said, “we are up fronting this to $60 million.”

Childcare $25M

Currently, child care centers are only open to people whose jobs are considered essential. As the state begins to expand opening child care and businesses, the need is increasing. There will now be $25 million to be distributed for early childhood care and education, about $5 million more than recommended by Health and Human Services “to cover needs on the back end,” Sununu said.

Main Street Relief

The largest chunk of money, $400 million, which Sununu called a “pretty staggering number,” is grant aid to be distributed to small businesses. This is in addition to federal payroll protection plan money that has been distributed.

The money will be distributed in a “fair, open and equitable way.”

He said businesses would be able to get help to pay their bills to avoid bankruptcy and to help businesses survive and recover, saving jobs. The state will require a form to be filled out starting Friday and for two weeks to take applications through the Department of Revenue Administration.

After two weeks on May 29, the state would consider who to distribute the money to. The fund will allow the state to account for lost revenue due to COVID-19 and see the real impact of this pandemic on business.

The fund will also help cities and towns as it would allow businesses to pay their property taxes.

He said everyone will get paid at the same time, Sununu said.

“It’s not for big business,” or franchises, he stressed, and it will consider those who received PPP distributions.

Food and Farm

To keep the cows fed and the farms from closing $10 million will be distributed through the state Department of Agriculture. Another $5 million will go into the NH Food Bank.

Higher Education $15M

Sununu said $10 million will go to the University Systems of New Hampshire to make sure online learning programs are as robust as possible. There will also be money for COVID-19 and contact tracing.

Another $5 million will go to the community college system in a similar manner.

Stipend Enhancements

Recently, the state created an opportunity for workers in Medicaid-based long-term care facilities to receive an additional $300 weekly stipend and hazard pay for first responders.

Additional funding will allow for more Medicaid staff, corrections staff, and juvenile protective service workers to receive that pay.

“We cannot provide stipends to everyone,” Sununu said. “But we can continue to prioritize those needs.”

The announced distribution of federal funds still leaves $400 million to be allocated and Sununu said the GOFERR committee and office under the leadership Jerry Little, will continue to meet and look at future needs.

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