Coronavirus

First-responders and local governments will be able to receive new benefits to help ease the burden the COVID-19 outbreak has had on them, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Monday.

Sununu said during a news conference that starting immediately, full-time police officers, firefighters, EMTs, corrections officers and other first-responders will be eligible for $300 weekly. Part-time workers in these fields, along with volunteer firefighters and EMTs, will be able to receive $150 per week.

This benefit is scheduled to run through the end of June. Local departments can submit their personnel list to the state by filling out a form to be posted to the N.H. Department of Safety’s website. As of Tuesday morning, it had not been posted.

“Our police, fire and EMS services risk their lives every day when they leave their house,” Sununu said, adding that this risk is amplified during the outbreak by their potential exposure to COVID-19.

Sununu said the $25 million slated for these public safety personnel will come from the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion federal relief package that President Donald Trump signed into law in late March to offset the economic impact of the outbreak. New Hampshire received $1.25 billion, which is being allocated by the Governor’s Office for Economic Relief and Recovery.

Last month, the governor announced that front-line employees in Medicaid-funded residential facilities and social service organizations would be eligible to receive $300 weekly payments. This followed reports of a number of outbreaks in long-term-care settings.

Also Monday, Sununu announced a new $40 million fund, also from CARES Act money, to provide aid to county and municipal governments to help them cover COVID-19-related costs. The funds can be used for expenses incurred between March 1 and Aug. 31.

Sununu said the advisory committees working within the Governor’s Office for Economic Relief and Recovery have urged the state to prioritize the needs of its municipalities. The money will help bridge the gap between the expenses New Hampshire cities and towns have incurred and funding they will receive from FEMA, Sununu said.

However, the governor stressed that use of the funds is restricted to costs related to the pandemic and that they cannot be used to balance municipal budgets.

“These funds cannot, and are not designed to, fill and backfill revenue shortfalls,” Sununu said. “[They] simply provide the relief so cities and towns aren’t facing the burden of COVID-19 costs.”

He said examples of what the money can be used for are municipal building cleaning, the increased costs of social services, equipment needed to facilitate working remotely and child care expenses for frontline workers.

Keene Mayor George Hansel commended the state’s efforts to help both municipal governments and first-responders. But when it comes to taking care of costs at home, Hansel said it’s up to the city to guarantee its own financial security in the long term. He pointed to a series of projects he’s proposed to help stimulate the local economy, such as moving ahead with a much-discussed arts corridor on Gilbo Avenue and infrastructure work on Main Street.

“I don’t think it’s wise to rely only on Concord or Washington to get our economy back on track,” he said on Monday evening. “We need to lean into our own recovery with efforts like the stimulus package I’ve outlined. I look forward to working with our local officials, community partners, citizens and businesses to make it happen.”

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson