About 35,000 residents who are now receiving unemployment benefits will lose their $300 a week federal COVID-19 benefit by June 19 while Gov. Chris Sununu also announced a plan to use $10 million to incentivize people to go back to work.
Those who are on the unemployment rolls today can go get a job immediately and if they work for eight full weeks they will receive a $500 part-time summer stipend and a $1,000 state summer stipend for full-time work, he said at a news conference Tuesday.
The money is on a first-come-first-serve basis, Sununu said, and could give a boost not only to workers but employers who are desperate for help.
The state has an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent, one of the lowest in the nation. It was up as high as 16 percent during the pandemic, yet the governor said there are still over 14,000 unfilled jobs out there.
“Everyone is looking to hire,” Sununu said with some starting wages at $15 or more an hour.
The newly announced stipend is available effective today and will be extended only to those who will make $25 or less an hour, Sununu said.
As he previously announced, on May 23, those receiving New Hampshire unemployment will also be required to complete a weekly work search survey to continue to receive the regular unemployment checks.
The state’s unemployment trust fund is fully solvent, he said, and New Hampshire never had to borrow to keep it afloat during the pandemic as others did. Sununu did not specify a dollar amount for that trust fund.
But he said the state is moving faster and better than he expected toward normal conditions.
“Our situation has evolved all to the better,” Sununu said noting that the state is way ahead of schedule with more people receiving the vaccines and businesses opening up earlier than expected.
The $10 million is coming from several “pots,” the governor said, noting federal monies are available. He noted housing for workers continues to be a roadblock for fully meeting all the open job positions. The barriers are mostly at the local permitting level, he observed.
“You do it with incentives, not sticks,” Sununu said. “I am a big believer in local control. It really does work.”
But he noted, “You can’t say ‘I am pro-business ‘ but not support workforce housing.”
Some communities have been very creative, Sununu said, including Londonderry and Rochester and some small rural towns have made workforce housing investments. But some communities take the “not in my backyard” approach to their own detriment, Sununu said.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said there were 139 new cases of the coronavirus reported in the state on Tuesday, down from last week bringing the total number of active cases to 1,118. The state is averaging about 150 new infections per day, also down from last week and the positivity rate is now at 2.9 percent, down as well.
Hospitalizations have also come down from a week ago. As of Tuesday, there were 48 people in the hospital with COVID-19. One new death was reported and the person was not a resident of a long-term care facility.
Chan said Tuesday’s reported fatality brings the state to a total of 1,334 deaths so far from the virus. He said high vaccination rates in long-term care facilities have certainly prevented many more deaths.
He strongly urged everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated and to complete the course of vaccinations.
Chan was asked if we should expect a “mini spike” now that the CDC has lifted the mask guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, indoors and outdoors.
Chan said he expects the numbers will continue to go down but could go down faster with higher vaccination rates and combined use of mitigation measures, including face masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowds.
Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Health and Human Services Department, gave a very brief update, with no new outbreaks to report. She said healthcare officials should not force their workers to get vaccinated.
Dr. Beth Daly, who heads up the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, said 68 percent of the state’s eligible residents have signed up to get vaccinated. There have been 1,310,000 vaccine doses administered in total, including 56 percent of the total eligible population getting at least one dose.
About 44 percent of the state’s eligible residents are now fully vaccinated, she said.
Last week, the state began administering the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 12 to 15 years old and so far about 5,000 have received their first dose, about 9 percent. Daly said there are three ways kids can get the vaccine: by registering at the state website, VINI; getting vaccinated at a school-based clinic, or from their health-care provider that is beginning to have them.
She also noted that teens and everyone who is of age can just walk into existing clinics between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. to get one of the 50 reserved vaccines for those who have no appointment, with the exception of Sundays.
On the first day of doing that, which was Monday, more than 250 people took advantage of the opportunity. There were 450 doses available for distribution. She reminded parents when registering their child for the vaccine on the state website, they will need to register for a site that has Pfizer vaccine as it is the only one available for kids 12-15.
A vaccination clinic for the deaf is May 22 in Manchester with Elliott Health System and appointments are required. Those who want to sign up can use video phone at 603-546-7882, by phone at 603- 271-9097, or email email@example.com by May 19. Interpreters will be available.
About 50,000 doses of the vaccines are coming to the state each week and the state has not yet pulled back on that full allotment request, but Daly said as vaccination rates continue to slow that will likely happen.
“We are getting close to that point,” Daly said.
The equity allocation for vulnerable and the hard to reach has vaccinated 35,000 people which is less than the 10 percent of the vaccines the state targeted, but there are ways to expand that program, and Daly said the state is trying to get creative, including partnerships with food banks, the faith-based community, and employers.
Sununu said he is keeping the state emergency declaration and reviewing it every 21 days, but keeping it is necessary to be sure the state can qualify for federal programs and grants.
Sununu said the Biden Administration has not had the best of communication lines although a good call was had recently with the Treasury Department about new dollars coming into the state for state and municipalities.
Masks in Businesses
The state issued new guidance Tuesday for businesses and indoor environments, Chan said, which consider the new CDC guidelines. These mitigation measures are a transition measure for higher-risk indoor settings, he said.
“This is going to help us exit the pandemic more quickly,” he said. “We need to help our businesses, he said, including employee protections.
Chan said the pandemic response has varied location by location. The state has close contact with CDC so he said it was a bit of a surprise last week to hear in the media that they were dropping the mask guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, both indoors and out.
At the end of the day, states and local health agencies need to make decisions in the best interest of their populations, he said.