By PAULA TRACY
and CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – As COVID-19 statistics continue to improve in the state, Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday announced $18 million more in federal funds for programs to support youth, those with substance abuse issues and veterans.
He also said at his regular news briefing that he would extend an existing $300 a week bonus for those who work on the front lines in Medicaid-funded nursing homes through the end of July.
The briefing touched on a wide range of issues from Eddie Edwards’s withdrawing his name from nomination as director of the board of licensure and certification to Hampton Beach trash to vetoing legislation that the House and Senate are still working to finalize.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, noted the downward trend is holding with only 15 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, the same as Monday. Sadly, he said, four more residents of extended care facilities have died from the virus. There were no new hospitalizations. The total number of citizens lost to date from COVID-19 stands at 343.
Sununu responded to questions about Edwards withdrawing his nomination while making allegations of “structural political racism” on the Democratically-controlled Executive Council.
Sununu said Edwards, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the District 1 Congress in 2018, did not receive a public hearing in more than 100 days since his nomination. Andru Volinsky, Executive Councilor from Concord who is running for governor as a Democrat, said he would not support Edwards because he lacked the adequate background for the job and called it a political appointment.
In his withdrawal letter to Sununu, Edwards cited his service as a Navy veteran, correctional officer, local chief of police and director of the Division of Liquor Enforcement and other work as ample experience.
“Black people, like me, who have chosen to walk in the valley of conservative personal beliefs are frequently attacked, marginalized and devalued as, ‘Tokens, Coons, Oreos, Uncle Toms and Sellouts.’ I have personally been singled out as ‘not one of our blacks,’” Edwards wrote. See letter here: http://indepthnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/eddie-edwards.pdf
Sununu said it was an “unfortunate loss” to have Edwards withdraw. Sununu said he heard from others “who do not want to go before that council.”
“I sat on the Executive Council for six years we never had anything like that,” Sununu said.
Sununu said he was at Hampton Beach on Sunday morning where he saw a lot of trash. He said the lack of staff was a part of the difficulty.
“If you want a job,” he said encouraging people to apply, noting pay is increasing to attract more workers. It was unfortunate that some people intentionally littered, he said.
The problem with traffic is by design because Sununu is working on keeping numbers at the beach down by limiting parking. He also said that some rowdy individuals came out over the weekend and police handled it well with no arrests or injuries.
Dr. Chan asked people who have tested positive from COVID-19 to “take the call” from health officials to help them with confidentially notifying their contacts to get them to isolate from the public. He acknowledged that sometimes people won’t take the call, but they need to help reduce the spread of the deadly virus.
Several weeks out from protest gatherings, there are no noticeable signs that the events caused a spike in cases of the coronavirus.
The governor said that indoor atmospheres “get me the most nervous” and he thinks transmission of the virus in some states is likely coming from late-night bars.
“I am more concerned about those closed indoor gatherings,” he said, adding this is a concern as colleges open in the fall. “My job is to plan for the worst,” he said.
Sununu reminded nonprofit operators, those with 501c3 federal tax status, that the final day to apply for $60 million in CARES Act funding is Thursday and urged them to go to the NH Charitable Foundation website to apply.
On April 14, Sununu announced that a long-term care stabilization fund would provide a $300 weekly stipend for front-line workers, specifically at facilities that get Medicaid rates.
So far, over 23,000 people have taken advantage of this program and as of last Friday about $30 million has already gone out the door, Sununu said. He is extending that stipend through July 31.
Sununu announced that $18 million in federal funding would augment existing programs to help youth programs, substance abuse, and mental health treatment for adults and veteran assistance.
He wants to make sure youths are ready for school and their needs for services are being addressed.
“We just don’t want to wait until September,” he said, to find the gaps in children’s services.
He said he met with the Governor’s Youth Council recently and they talked specifically about the isolation teens are facing, stress, anxiety, and substance abuse.
“We want to be preventative and proactive,” and support existing programs with augmented funds.
This can include everything from more PPE for youth summer programs, training for teachers on effective remote learning strategies, and more.
About $1 million will go to increase funding for investigators of online predators.
About $2 million for existing youth programs to help their workforce issues, he said.
With the potential for mental health and substance abuse numbers to skyrocket in the next few months because of the pandemic, the state will put another $6 million on top of existing funding to help access care and treatment.
He said the state health department would work to identify the best way to get those funds out.
“These are our heroes. We know it,” said Sununu. He said they are a constituency not immune to COVID. The money will go to homeless and housing programs for them, traditional veterans service programs, and mental health support.
The state honored Perry Plummer, assistant commissioner of safety, with the National Guard Distinguished Service Award. Plummer is retiring after working for 34 years to protect the citizens of the state.
New Hampshire National Guard Maj. Gen. David Mikolaities presented the award to Plummer. Sununu thanked him as well saying he has been “in the weeds and he is there every step of the way.”
Plummer said it has been a true pleasure serving the citizens of the state and thanked them for their support.
Laconia State School
Sununu said he is not in support of what he called an expensive plan to redevelop the Laconia State School, saying he would like to see it developed privately.
The governor said he was open to the concept of federal CARES Act bailout money to help summer camps that may not financially be able to return next year due to COVID-19.
He said it was hard to strike a balance for health and allowing for camps to reopen and he noted some would not open this summer because of the restrictive nature of the guidance.
“Summer camps are tough,” Sununu said, noting it is possible that future help could come.
Right now, he said, the focus is on allowing some flexibility to open.
On Thursday, Sununu said he will announce a new program similar to his Main Street program to help the self-employed.
He said the vast majority of the $350 million Main Street checks through the CARES Act have been sent out. He said he has been receiving great calls from people who were surprised and delighted to get the checks.
Sununu said he will likely veto a number of bills coming out of the legislature next week citing in particular one on unemployment. House Bill 1166 would be “a disaster” and would violate federal law, he said.
“There is going to be a bunch,” Sununu said of vetoes. Last year, he vetoed a record 53 bills.
Police Body Cameras
Sununu said he supports the use of body cameras noting they protect both law enforcement and the individuals they interact with.
Sununu has appointed a new commission to study law enforcement, and this may be an area that is explored in the next 45 days as it develops recommendations. The Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency met Monday and will take input Thursday and public testimony on Friday.