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Panel rejects using remaining virus aid on food stamps

November 23, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2020 file photograph, N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu wears a protective mask, due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, at a polling station in Windham, N.H. New Hampshire joined three dozen other states, including the rest of New England, in enacting a statewide mask mandate as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies. Sununu issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, indoors or outside, when social distancing isn't possible, which goes into effect on Thursday Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2020 file photograph, N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu wears a protective mask, due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, at a polling station in Windham, N.H. New Hampshire joined three dozen other states, including the rest of New England, in enacting a statewide mask mandate as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies. Sununu issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, indoors or outside, when social distancing isn't possible, which goes into effect on Thursday Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2020 file photograph, N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu wears a protective mask, due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, at a polling station in Windham, N.H. New Hampshire joined three dozen other states, including the rest of New England, in enacting a statewide mask mandate as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies. Sununu issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, indoors or outside, when social distancing isn't possible, which goes into effect on Thursday Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Families receiving food stamps won’t get a boost from New Hampshire’s federal coronavirus relief aid.

The state has allocated all but $991,120 of the $1.25 billion it received. Any funds not allocated by Dec. 31 must be returned to Washington, but that won’t happen, the head of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery told a legislative advisory panel Monday. Whatever is left as the deadline nears will be put into the state’s unemployment trust fund, Taylor Caswell said.

“The bottom line is we are squarely on track to spend these funds down to the penny,” said Caswell, commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

Democrats on the panel wanted to use the remaining money for the food stamps program instead, but were defeated 4-3. They unsuccessfully argued that shifting the balance to the food stamps program would be easy to do within the existing structure and that the unemployment system would be more likely to benefit from any future federal aid packages.

“People not being able to eat, that’s a significant concern,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.

Republican lawmakers shared the concern but raised questions about whether recipients would be forced to return any money that wasn’t spent by the end of the year. Caswell suggested it was too late to change course.

“There are many causes and organizations that are in a difficult place that haven’t seen relief funds or have a developing financial need,” he said. “But the fact is these funds must be spoken for by Dec 30, and we are driven to meet that deadline and not return any funds to Washington.”

In other coronavirus-related developments:

ANTI-MASK PROTEST

At least 100 people protested New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s mask requirement, chanting “Breathe free or die” and “We will not comply” outside the Republican’s home in Newfields.

Sununu issued an executive order that took effect Friday requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, indoors or outside, when social distancing isn’t possible.

Seacoastonline.com reports protest organizer Frank Staples, working with a group called Absolute Defiance, was asked Sunday why the protest was held outside Sununu’s home rather than at the Statehouse.

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“The Statehouse is closed,” Staples said. “He has shut everything down and is running the government from his house, so right now this is the Statehouse. We will be here every weekend till he ends his executive orders and the state of emergency.”

It wasn’t known if Sununu was home at the time.

Sununu had resisted calls for a statewide mandate, even as surrounding states enacted similar measures.

He said last week a mandate was appropriate, given the rising percentage of positive test results, the fact that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has doubled in the past two weeks, new outbreaks at five nursing homes, and an “incredibly alarming rate” of community transmission by people who aren’t showing symptoms.

The order expires Jan. 15.

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THE NUMBERS

More than 18,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in New Hampshire since the start of the pandemic, including 445 new cases announced Monday. The number of deaths remained at 512.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 182 on Nov. 8 to 418 on Sunday.