Virus spurs unemployment benefit expansion in New Hampshire
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire residents unable to work or those facing reduced hours because of the coronavirus pandemic will have access to immediate unemployment benefits, as well as temporary protection from losing their homes or having their utilities shut off.
Gov. Chris Sununu issued several executive orders Tuesday, a day after he banned both large public gatherings and dine-in service restaurants. The latter decision was made in part to prevent St. Patrick’s Day revelers from flooding into the state from Massachusetts, which enacted similar restrictions over the weekend, Sununu said.
“Unlike some larger states like Texas or Oklahoma, we have such common interstate travel over of our borders,” said Sununu, a Republican. “All of those factors and data points are brought into consideration before we make any serious decision.”
A look at how the spread of the virus is affecting the state:
As of Tuesday, more than 25 people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Health officials have said most of the state’s cases were infected via international travel, domestic travel or close contact with another patient. But the nine additional cases announced Tuesday had no identifiable risk factors, meaning the state is beginning to see the coronavirus spread in the community.
All of them are isolated at home and none of them have been hospitalized. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough, and the vast majority recover.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order Tuesday allowing a broad group of people affected by the virus to request unemployment benefits. Those eligible include workers at businesses that temporarily close due to COVID-19; those who are told to self-quarantine by a health care provider, employer or government official; those who need to care for ill or quarantined family members; those caring for children because of school and daycare closures and self-employed individuals unable to operate their businesses.
Applications can be submitted online or by phone, and the usual one-week waiting period is being suspended. Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner of the Department of Employment Security, said he hopes it will help people who are reluctant to quarantine themselves because they fear losing income.
“This will allow us to provide critical resources right away at the onset of a reduction in work,” he said at a news conference. “In times such as these, the unemployment program is an incredibly valuable resource for our local economy.”
Lavers said the state’s unemployment trust fund stands at $300 million, about $30 million more than the amount available when the 2008 recession hit. The state typically has about 500 people initial claims each week, plus about 4,000 existing claims. During the recession, those numbers rose to 4,000 initial claims per week, with 35,000 to 40,000 continuing claims, Lavers said. The current average payout is $333 per week.
PROTECTIONS AT HOME
Sununu also issued an order prohibiting providers of electricity, gas, water, phone service and other utilities from disconnecting or discontinuing services for nonpayment for the duration of the 21-day state of emergency he declared Friday. Another order prohibits landlords from starting eviction proceedings for those in difficult financial situations, and it bans foreclosure actions, as well.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, responding to an earlier order from Sununu to ban public gatherings over 50, is prohibiting the general public from attending mass. Priest will continue to offering daily and Sunday mass but the pews will be empty. The Diocese is not set up to stream the services but did encourage parishioners to watch mass from other places on EWTN Global Catholic Network or Boston Catholic Television.
“It pains me terribly to have to make this decision,” Bishop Libasci said in a statement. “But we are mindful of our obligation to protect the most vulnerable and protect the common good.”
New Hampshire’s public university system has adjusted its response.
The four schools that make up the system — the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College and Granite State College — last week announced varying approaches in terms of resuming classes after spring break.
But by Tuesday, all campuses had switched to remote learning at least until April 3. While campuses remain open for essential work, students currently not on campus have been instructed not to return before April 5 unless an exception is granted by one of the schools.
Officials also are working with state, federal and local authorities to set up testing and isolation facilities to serve students, employees and surrounding communities.
Private schools also are switching to remote learning. At Dartmouth College, where a graduate student who lives off campus has tested positive for COVID-19, all classes will be taught remotely until May 1, and undergraduate students have been told not to return.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.