CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire officials aren’t giving up hope that Congress will agree to another coronavirus relief package, though their patience is wearing thin.
“Congress and the White House made a commitment to the Governors that there would be a second round of relief for states — we are going to hold their feet to the fire until they uphold that commitment,” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement Monday.
Negotiations over the relief package have failed, however, and there’s no telling when they might restart. If they do, New Hampshire officials hope they’ll result in a package that allows state and local governments to not only recoup what they’ve spent responding to the pandemic but to make up for lost revenue.
The New Hampshire Municipal Association is in the process of surveying cities and towns about the financial fallout of the virus, said its director, Margaret Byrnes. So far, she’s heard from many communities that are in “ok to good” shape in terms of collecting July property taxes but are worried about December.
“As some of that assistance that went to individuals, like the unemployment or assistance to small businesses, start to end, then it’s that rolling ball effect that’s going to hit municipalities probably more so at the end of the year,” she said. “Some of the smaller communities might not have seen impact as far as expenses, but concerns remain in New Hampshire and across the country that the real impact that all cities and towns will share is on the revenue side.”
At the state level, revenues for the fiscal year that ended June 30 were 5.5% under budget, or about $143 million. With a hiring and discretionary spending freeze in place, the state expects to see a deficit of about $350 million over the course of its two-year budget, according to the governor’s chief of staff, Jayne Millerick.
“We know that revenues are down, and I’m concerned there’s no movement at the federal level to give relief to the states around lost revenue because of COVID, which New Hampshire is going to desperately need,” said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, chair of the House Finance Committee and member of a legislative group advising the state on spending the federal funds.
She said she was particularly worried about President Donald Trump’s move to have states foot part of the bill for unemployment benefits. He announced an executive order Saturday that extends additional unemployment payments of $400 a week, with states paying a quarter of that amount.
“With new Hampshire’s revenues the way they are already, where would that come from?” said Wallner, D-Concord.
New Hampshire state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, called Trump’s executive order “nonsense.”
“Only a crazy man would do that,” he said. “We’re already in tough shape with that fund to begin with.”
While New Hampshire is likely in better shape than many other states, it will be in big trouble if the federal government doesn’t do something to help it backfill its budget, he said. The state is looking at a roughly $300 million deficit for its two-year budget.
“Can we manage it, yeah, sure, but not without a lot of pain,” he said.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said compromise ought to be possible, though he put much of the blame on what he called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “all or nothing approach.” He particularly objects to provisions that include a rescue plan for union pension plans nearing insolvency.
“Revenue replacement for the pandemic is legitimate, but bailing out states that won’t make the kind of decisions New Hampshire made 10 years ago on pensions? I get where my former colleagues are coming from in Washington,” said Bradley, a former U.S. House member.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
Masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment have been delivered to communities across New Hampshire for the upcoming primary and general elections.
Polling places will be open for those who want to vote in person for the Sept. 8 and Nov. 8 elections, the secretary of state's office said Monday. Social distancing will be practiced and precautions are being taken to keep voters and poll workers safe.
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
High school fall sports can start practicing next month, according to the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Practices are scheduled to start on Sept. 8. Bass fishing and golf can start competition on Sept. 10, while cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball can start their seasons Sept. 18. Competition for football and spirit can start Sept. 25.
The number of schools participating in sports is still unknown; school district will be making its own decision.
As of Monday, 6,840 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 13 from the previous day. The number of deaths stayed at 419. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 33 new cases per day on July 26 to 31 new cases per day on Aug. 9.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.
Associated Press Writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.