By Kim Jarrett | The Center Square
There will “undoubtedly” be state budget cuts due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday.
New Hampshire and the rest of the country are facing tough times as the spread of the virus has led to business closings and a slowdown in the economy.
“Our budget director and our team are kind of reviewing those numbers and working with department heads,” Sununu said. “We’ve already put in place the idea that there are a large variety of positions in our state that are not filled right now that in act we have frozen.”
Freezing the jobs will allow state officials to take a closer look at the “areas of most need,” Sununu said.
“In short, we are going to have to go through some pretty tight budget cuts.”
New Hampshire will receive $1.25 billion from the $2 trillion federal relief package passed that week. But none of that money covers revenue shortfalls at the state or municipal level, Sununu said. The governor said some towns could consider an interest and penalty free tax holiday for residents who owe property taxes.
The governor issued three executive orders Wednesday. One will allow municipalities to waive meeting requirements and conduct business remotely. Important documents can be signed by electronic signature.
Sununu also announced $2 million in new funding for child protection services. According to the order:
• Family violence prevention specialists will go from part-time to full time.
• Three additional drug and alcohol counselors will be hired.
• The age of children who can participate in the state’s Strength to Succeed program will increase from 6 to 10 years old. The program currently covers families that have a parent with a substance abuse order but the program will expand to include families with mental health or child neglect issues.
• More technology will be purchased so that more families can conduct remote visitation with their children.
• A Family Resiliency Support Line will be expanded to help families deal with challenges.
Sununu also allocated $600,000 to organizations that help victims of domestic violence. The funds can be used to fund hotels for victims, expand crisis lines and helped victims with needs.
The child protection and family violence orders were issued as child abuse and family violence reports are declining.
“What is not going down is the actual instance of occurrence,” Sununu said, urging residents to report incidents of domestic violence and child abuse.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state’s epidemiologist, also addressed the number of novel coronavirus cases. Four New Hampshire residents have died from the virus and 415 have tested positive. About 6,400 people have been tested, Chan said.
When asked about the number of ventilators, Sununu said he didn’t have an exact count but is “comfortable where we are today in terms of having an adequate supply over the next few weeks as the surge continues to grow.”
“Again, we think we are going to be OK but we are always pushing and hopefully keep getting more equipment in prior to the surge,” Sununu said.