By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – For the 10th week, U.S. Representatives Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas fielded phone calls Wednesday from residents and business owners across the state concerned about COVID-19. They were joined by experts on health and unemployment benefits.
In many cases, callers were urged to give their information to unemployment officials and their offices to get their cases reviewed personally.
Since the outbreak, tens of thousands of people in New Hampshire have joined these calls with questions on their own financial and physical health.
The two Democrats were joined on the call by George N. Copadis, commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security; Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security; and Vasuki Nagaraj, MD, Chief Medical Officer and a family physician at Lamprey Health Care; and Dr. Keith Stahl at Catholic Medical Center.
Pappas said the next major COVID-19 “HEROES Act” is going to be considered for first responders, state, local, and county government. It enjoys a lot of support from local leaders in the state.
It covers testing and tracing capabilities, direct payments to families, and more flexibility for local government. Kuster and Pappas are headed to Washington Thursday hoping to pass the new HEROES Act package Friday.
Kuster said it includes a number of priorities she has been fighting for, including direct aid to state and local governments. However, Mr. Chinoook, who called said he is worried that it will not be supported in the Senate.
For the public, Dr. Nagaraj said it is important to take good proactive care now and urged people to address needs either in-person, using a telehealth call and televideo, all of which is very confidential.
If you are a parent whose child is behind on immunizations, someone with diabetes whose blood sugar is high, if you are pregnant and have not had a routine check-up, if you have high blood pressure, asthma, or would like to talk to a counselor or how to get a COVID-19 test, Nagaraja urged people to stay on the call and leave information for him.
Those who don’t have insurance can be directed to community health centers for wrap-around services, he added.
You can go online and type “find a health center,” and enter your ZIP code. There are 14 such centers in New Hampshire, he said.
Bernadette from Nashua said she was pleased that there is a new website for employment security. She said the old website was constantly asking her for a previous password which she did not have.
She thanked the delegation and asked if she could do anything as a resident to let the Senate know we need the third stimulus bill.
Josh from Salem had questions about unemployment benefits. He was denied benefits despite being laid off due to COVID-19. “I need help,” he said.
Lavers said, “You are doing the right things,” and offered to take a personal look at his situation.
If someone had a prior separation that was considered ineligible in the past, under the CARES Act it is not a disqualification, Lavers said.
Are some types of blood immune to COVID-19, an online questioner asked.
Dr. Stahl said he read a brief in a medical publication and at this point said he thought it was an observation. “We don’t put a lot of stock on a single report,” Stahl said. “It’s anecdotal until proven otherwise.”
Elana of Lisbon, who owns a lodging facility, wanted to know about economic disaster loans through the SBA. It has been oversubscribed, Pappas said, and they have not disbursed new requests.
Do we know when the governor might start opening lodging?
“People are calling like crazy wanting to come to New Hampshire,” she said.
Karen said she has listened to seven of the 10 town hall calls and “I learn something every week.”
Pappas said that the CARES Act provided money including $3 million to New Hampshire, and a weekly meeting is held through the Secretary of State about elections.
Maybe, as many as 50 percent of voters could vote by absentee ballot, he said.
Kuster added that typically an excuse is required for an absentee ballot but they have indicated that COVID-19 is a sufficient reason to get ballots issued but it is a somewhat “cumbersome” process involving several mailings.
“We welcome the broadest participation,” Kuster said.
Jennifer asked how much longer COVID-19 is going to last.
“The economy is tanking, we get it,” she said. “This is way too long for people to be out of work.”
“It’s up to the virus,” said Kuster.