New Hampshire policy responses to COVID-19
On March 13, 2020 New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu declared a state of emergency due to novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the cause of a worldwide outbreak of respiratory illness. While COVID-19 is still very present in New Hampshire, the state of emergency ended on June 11, 2021.
Here is a summary of all the policies Gov. Sununu and various state agencies implemented in response to COVID-19.
- Vaccines and booster shots
- Vaccination mandates
- Testing for COVID-19
- Hospital capacity and the "winter surge"
- Healthcare workforce shortage
- Mask mandate
- The end of expanded unemployment benefits
- Stay-at-home order
- Quarantine after travel
- Fines related to COVID-19
- Remote learning and public schools
- Small business and nonprofit loans
- Grocery stores
- Other business regulations
- Flexible licensing
- Stipends for front-line workers
- Mandated insurance coverage
- No visitors for residential facilities
- Mortgage and rent assistance
- No utility shut-offs
- Temporary housing
- Resources for victims of violence at home
- DMV and toll changes
- Local government changes
- Remote legislative activity
- Federal policy impacting New Hampshire
- State management of federal money
- Limiting the governor's emergency powers
Vaccines and booster shots
In November 2021 the federal government announced all adults over age 18 are eligible for booster shots after the first rounds of COVID-19 vaccination. Adults who received the Johnson & Johnson shot are eligible for a booster two months after their first shot. Adults who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are eligible for a booster six months after their second shot. Click here for more details.
The state held a "booster blitz" on December 11, 2021 with twenty locations around the state offering booster shots. There was a similar "booster blitz" on January 8, 2022 with fourteen locations.
When COVID-19 vaccines first became available in early 2021, New Hampshire rolled out the vaccines in phases. The very first vaccines went to high-risk health workers, first responders, and older adults in residential care settings. New Hampshire then moved to everyone over age 65, medically vulnerable people at “significantly higher risk,” residents and staff of residential facilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, corrections officers and staff, and remaining health care workers.
The second phase of vaccines, starting in March 2021, included K-12 school and childcare staff, followed by people age 50-64.
Residents age 40-49 could start registering for the vaccine on March 29. Resident age 30-39 could start registering on March 31. Everyone age 16 and up could register starting April 2.
Non-residents were able to register for vaccines in New Hampshire starting April 19.
Starting in mid-May youth age 12 to 16 could register for vaccination.
The state opened vaccination to children age 5 and up in November 2021.
A January 4, 2021 executive order allowed pharmacy technicians to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
In 2021 Gov. Sununu signed HB 220, which prohibits any COVID-19 vaccine requirement to access a public facility, service, or benefit. However, the bill carves out exceptions for medical facilities, nursing homes, jails, and prisons. Private employers are also free to require the COVID-19 vaccine.
In September 2021 Pres. Biden announced a new federal mandate that would require employers with over 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing. Health care workers would also be required to vaccinate. The New Hampshire Attorney General, with the support of Gov. Sununu, challenged these federal mandates in court. In January 2022 the Biden administration announced they were withdrawing the rule for employers with over 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing.
In October 2021 the Executive Council voted against accepting federal funding related to vaccine distribution. Some Executive Councilors said language in the federal funding contracts would compel New Hampshire to enforce the federal vaccine mandate, although Gov. Sununu and the Attorney General said that is not true. The Executive Council later approved a much smaller funding request related to vaccine distribution. On November 10, 2021 the Executive Council voted to approve the rest of the original funding request along with a resolution affirming their opposition to federal mandates. The resolution is basically a statement of opinion. The federal vaccine funding later got bipartisan approval from a legislative committee.
State legislators continue to debate bills related to vaccines and COVID-19. Browse the bills on our Public Health and Safety topic page.
Testing for COVID-19
As the winter of 2021 approached and COVID-19 cases surged, Gov. Sununu announced plans for expanded testing capacity. The state launched a partnership with Amazon to deliver at-home COVID-19 tests at no cost. When the program launched the state ran out of tests within 24 hours, but New Hampshire worked to replenish the tests. The state also offered schools a supply of rapid tests and at-home PCR tests. In January 2022, Gov. Sununu announced the state would offer at-home COVID-19 tests at state liquor stores.
The availability of tests was an issue on and off throughout the pandemic.
On April 14, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced a program for all employees at long-term care facilities in Rockingham and Hillsborough county to get tested for coronavirus through ConvientMD.
On May 6, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced that anyone ccould get tested for coronavirus in New Hampshire, without a doctor's referral.
On May 8, 2020 Gov. Sununu also announced that anyone could get tested for coronavirus antibodies by making an appointment with ClearChoiceMD.
An April 30, 2020 executive order allowed a surrogate to consent to experimental treatment if a patient is severely ill with COVID-19 and unable to consent.
Hospital capacity and the "winter surge"
On November 23, 2021 Gov. Sununu announced an executive order to help hospitals facing a shortage of beds and staff during a surge of COVID-19 cases. The executive order directed the Department of Health and Human Services to establish temporary acute care centers inside hospitals, increase bed capacities at other licensed institutional facilities, and "conduct a review of regulations to determine what additional flexibilities are available to effectively combat the current and any future surge."
On November 30 the governor announced several additional strategies to address healthcare capacity, including:
- Allocating federal funds to pay providers who take an individual while their Medicaid eligibility is pending approval
- Creating temporary acute care centers at ambulatory surgical centers and other providers
- Paying rehabilitation centers to accept nursing home residents waiting for a bed in a long-term care facility at the rehabilitation center rate
- Creating "Strike Teams" for long-term care staffing, to increase capacity at long-term care facilities that have empty unstaffed beds
The Department of Health and Human Services targeted out-of-state contract health care workers for these "Strike Teams."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also sent temporary health care personnel to New Hampshire.
In December 2021, Gov. Sununu announced he was deploying some members of the National Guard to also help in hospitals.
This was not the first time the governor took executive action related to hospital capacity. On March 19, 2020 the governor announced a $50 million fund to give grants or loans “to provide emergency relief to all aspects of the New Hampshire healthcare system.”
On April 3, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced the state had built 14 clinical surge flex facilities. In late May the state closed all but four of those facilities, in Manchester, Plymouth, Durham, and Littleton.
On May 28, 2020 Sununu announced "the Governor’s COVID-19 Equity Response Team to develop a recommended strategy and plan to address the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Healthcare workforce shortage
The November 23, 2021 executive order also directed the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification and boards that license healthcare professionals to streamline the licensing process and expand eligibility.
This executive order followed earlier executive actions aimed at boosting the healthcare workforce. On December 10, 2020 Gov. Sununu signed an order that allowed senior nursing students to work as nurses under a temporary license. On December 30, 2020 he signed a similar order authorizing military service members and emergency medical technicians to work as nurses under a temporary license.
On February 23, 2022 Gov. Sununu announced the state was dropping its recommendation to wear masks indoors.
The New Hampshire Department of Education followed-up with an announcement that any school mask mandates moving forward are "inconsistent with the Ed 306 rules" and that schools should remove their mask mandates "as quickly as possible."
During most of the state of emergency, Gov. Sununu refrained from requiring masks in public. On August 11, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced New Hampshire would require anyone at a scheduled gathering of 100 or more people to wear a mask. On November 19, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced a statewide mask mandate. The mandate applied everywhere indoors and outdoors where it is impossible to maintain six-foot social distancing. On April 15, 2021 Gov. Sununu announced he was ending the statewide mask mandate, although he said he still encourages mask wearing.
Private businesses, cities and towns may still require masks.
The end of expanded unemployment benefits
On May 18, 2021 Gov. Sununu announced that New Hampshire would end the extra $300 per week federal unemployment benefit on June 19. Instead, the state offered residents a $1,000 bonus for leaving unemployment, after eight weeks of work, so long as their pay is below $25/hour.
The end of extra unemployment benefits followed over a year of expanded eligibility and payments.
On March 16, 2020, Gov. Sununu issued an executive order that allowed individuals who were unable to work or who had reduced hours due to the coronavirus outbreak to apply for unemployment benefits. That included employees who had to stay home to take care of children during remote learning.
On March 30, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced a further expansion of unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the pandemic. That expansion included:
- An increase in minimum benefits from $32 to $168 per week
- An additional $600 per week, from federal funding
- An extension of benefits from 13 weeks (3 months) to 39 weeks (9 months)
The $600 per week, from federal funding, ended in July 2020. However, on August 2020 Gov. Sununu announced that the state would participate in a new federal program to boost benefits by $300 per week, with a $100 match from the state. That program ran out in September 2020. The federal government renewed the $300 per week benefit at the end of December 2020.
On April 22, 2021 Gov. Sununu announced he was reinstating the requirement for unemployment beneficiaries to show they are looking for work.
On March 26, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced a "stay-at-home" order, closing non-essential businesses. While the stay-at-home order expired June 15, 2020, Gov. Sununu still restricted various public gatherings. Most of these restrictions were drafted by the Economic Re-Opening Task Force.
On April 15, 2021 Gov. Sununu announced that the state would switch to "universal best practices" for businesses starting May 7.
Here is a summary of major reopenings in 2020:
- Starting May 4, 2020 hospitals could offer more procedures and services.
- Starting May 11, 2020 golf locations could open to New Hampshire residents and private members. On June 5, 2020 Gov. Sununu opened golf to non-residents, as well.
- Starting May 11, 2020 retail locations could open to a limited number of customers at a time. Customers and employees must wear facemasks and follow other safety procedures.
- Starting May 11, 2020 barbershops and hair salons could open for basic hair services. Once again customers and employees must wear facemasks and follow other safety procedures.
- Starting May 18, 2020 restaurants could open limited outdoor dining areas. Starting June 15 restaurants could open for indoor dining with tables six feet apart. Gov. Sununu later revised this to allow barriers between tables less than six feet apart.
- Starting May 22, 2020 non-contact youth sports could practice outdoors in groups of ten or less. Players must use their own equipment. Starting June 15 outdoor, non-contact amateur and youth sports could expand to groups of up to 50. On October 15 Gov. Sununu announced a two-week suspension for all youth hockey after several outbreaks. A month later he announced a ban on interstate youth hockey games.
- Starting May 29, 2020 behind-the-wheel driver's education could take place with instructors.
- Starting May 29, 2020 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship could open for in-person services at 40% capacity. On June 19 Gov. Sununu bumped up that capacity to 50%.
- Starting June 1, 2020 fitness centers could offer small group classes with adequate social distancing.
- Starting June 1, 2020 personal care services such as acupuncturists and nail salons could open to a limited number of customers. There are other safety guidelines.
- Starting June 1, 2020 seacoast beaches could open for transient use, such as swimming, surfing, and running. State parking will be limited to 50%. On June 5 Gov. Sununu announced that the state would also allow sunbathing on beaches. There were some challenges managing crowds at Hampton beach; on June 29 Gov. Sununu announced a pay increase of $3 per hour for state park staff working in Hampton.
- Starting June 5, 2020 hotels and short-term rentals could resume service. According to the governor, "If you are coming from out-of-state to stay at a NH hotel or rental location, you must self-attest to having stayed in your home, only leaving for essential purposes, for the previous 14 days." An earlier executive order restricted hotels, motels, AirBnBs, and other short-term rentals to housing essential workers and "vulnerable populations," such as homeless individuals. The state never closed campgrounds, although they were limited to members and New Hampshire residents.
- Starting June 15, 2020 wedding venues, funeral homes, libraries, charitable gaming locations, bowling alleys, gyms, museums, race tracks and other outdoor attractions could open with restrictions (usually including 50% capacity limits).
- Starting June 22, 2020 day camps could resume operations within safety guidelines. Overnight camps could start June 28.
- Starting June 29, 2020 amusement parks, performing arts centers, and indoor movie theaters could open with capacity restrictions.
Quarantine after travel
On March 11, 2021 Gov. Sununu announced he was changing this requirement to a recommendation.
Fines related to COVID-19
On August 13, 2020 Gov. Sununu issued an executive order clarifying the penalties for violating emergency rules and regulations related to the coronavirus. The fines were generally $1,000 for each violation or each day a violation continues.
However, in 2021 the state legislature reversed several business fines related to COVID-19.
Remote learning and public schools
Gov. Sununu ordered all schools in New Hampshire to transition to remote learning in mid-March 2020. That order continued through the end of the 2019/2020 school year.
In the summer of 2020 Sununu issued guidelines that allowed local districts to choose how and when they would offer in-person learning. Click here to read the state's guidelines.
On March 8, 2021 Gov. Sununu ordered that all New Hampshire schools offer in-person learning at least two days per week. On April 1 this increased to in-person learning five days a week.
At the start of the 2021/2022 school year, New Hampshire public schools set COVID-19 policies at the local level. For example, some schools required masks while others did not; some schools participated in regular pooled testing programs while others are not.
In February 2022 Commissioner Edelblut of the Department of Education finalized a rule that forbids schools from transitioning to remote learning due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Schools can close for an outbreak, but those days must be made up at the end of the school year, unless parents opt-in to remote learning.
After the Department of Health and Human Services dropped their recommendation for everyone to wear masks indoors, the Department of Education also issued an advisory that schools may no longer mandate masks.
There were a few other executive orders related to remote learning at the height of the pandemic. An order on March 18, 2020 gave schools more flexibility to use software that may not have been fully vetted for privacy purposes.
On March 30, 2020 the governor announced New Hampshire would not administer statewide standardized tests for the 2019-2020 school year.
An April 28, 2020 executive order gave school districts more flexibility to spend outside their budget. That same order gave the Department of Education greater flexibility to waive requirements for schools.
On May 26, 2020 Gov. Sununu ordered every school district to hold Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team meetings to consider Extended-School Year services for each student with an IEP.
Small business and nonprofit loans
The U.S. Small Business Administration approved New Hampshire’s application to provide emergency business loans during the COVID-19 outbreak. The loans offer up to $2 million for small businesses and may be used to cover payroll and other bills.
On April 3, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced that the state was moving a large portion of cash reserves to small New Hampshire banks, with the goal of increasing loans to small businesses across the state.
On April 10, 2020 the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority and New Hampshire Business Finance Authority announced the New Hampshire Nonprofit Response Fund. Using donations from the business community, the fund provided nonprofits up to $100,000 in loans and grants, with a focus on service providers. On May 15, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced an additional $60 million for nonprofits from the federal CARES Act money.
The same day Gov. Sununu announced a $400 million grant fund for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Click here to learn more.
On June 18, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced the Self Employed Livelihood Fund for self-employed individuals, which allowed self-employed individuals to access some of the small business grants.
Lastly Gov. Sununu created the New Hampshire General Assistance & Preservation (GAP) Fund for businesses and nonprofits that did not qualify for previous grants. Click here to learn more.
On March 16, 2020 Gov. Sununu ordered all restaurants and bars to offer takeout or delivery only. In a follow-up order on March 18, Gov. Sununu allowed restaurants to offer beer and wine with takeout and delivery.
Starting May 18, 2020 restaurants could offer outdoor seating; starting June 15 restaurants could offer some indoor dining. On August 21, Gov. Sununu announced he was lifting indoor capacity restrictions for restaurants in all ten counties.
Starting October 1, 2020 restaurants could seat people indoors less than 6-feet apart so long as there were physical barriers between parties.
On October 29, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced that restaurants would start collecting customer names and phone numbers to help with contact tracing in the event of a coronavirus exposure.
On March 11, 2021 Gov. Sununu announced that restaurants could start offering karaoke, darts, and other activities.
All restaurant limitations lifted on May 7, 2021, although many restaurants chose to continue with reservations, outdoor dining, and mask requirements.
On April 3, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced the New Hampshire Grocers Association was launching an emergency operations center to support grocery stores during the pandemic. The state worked with the association to develop guidelines to keep grocery store employees and customers safe. Those guidelines include marking six foot spacing in checkout lines, installing plexiglass shields at cash registers, and more.
A March 21, 2020 order required grocery stores to use disposable shopping bags. Gov. Sununu lifted that order on July 27, 2020.
State liquor stores stayed open throughout the pandemic, and on March 31, 2020 the governor announced a 10% pay increase for people working in liquor stores.
Other business regulations
On March 23, 2020 Gov. Sununu issued an order to temporarily allow online notarization.
The same day he issued an order to allow pharmacies to make and sell hand sanitizer, and to allow pharmacists to do more work remotely. Another order allowed out-of-state pharmacies to act as mail-order pharmacies in New Hampshire. An April 2020 order forbid "pharmacy desk audits, field audits or other routine audits that may consume considerable pharmacist or pharmacy staff resources under short deadlines."
On March 30, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced the state was pushing the business tax deadline for most businesses to June 15, 2020.
An April 1, 2020 executive order allowed construction to begin if local building officials are unable to meet and approve permit applications. A contractor still had to follow certain procedures, laid out in the executive order.
On April 9, 2020 Gov. Sununu issued an executive order that waived or extended deadlines and certification in several different areas, from asbestos licenses to tank operator certifications. Click here to see the full list from the governor.
On May 4, 2020 Sununu announced a program for businesses to get free masks from the state's stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE).
As part of his emergency declaration on March 13, 2020, Gov. Sununu loosened various licensing requirements. For example, out-of-state emergency personnel responding to COVID-19 could operate in New Hampshire without being licensed by the Granite State. The Department of Health and Human Services could also waive some requirements for day care facilities, for example to allow daycare at the site of critical employers.
On March 27, 2020 Gov. Sununu issued an order that allowed criminal background checks to take place without fingerprinting.
On April 1, 2020 Gov. Sununu addressed a different sort of license—marriage licenses. Any marriage license that would expire during the state of emergency was extended 60 days from the end of the state of emergency.
Stipends for front-line workers
On April 14, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced a $300 per week special benefit for front-line workers at Medicaid-funded longterm care facilities and in-home care environments. He said this benefit was intended to help facilities retain employees during the emergency.
On May 4, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced a similar $150 to $300 per week stipend for firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, and corrections officers.
Mandated insurance coverage
On March 10, 2020 the New Hampshire Insurance Department ordered all New Hampshire insurers to cover costs associated with COVID-19 tests, without cost sharing. The order also required health insurers to make other accommodations for the coronavirus, such as allowing customers to refill prescriptions early.
In a later order, on March 18, 2020, Gov. Sununu ordered health insurers to provide equal coverage for telemedicine. In other words, health insurers could not require people to meet with their health care providers face-to-face to get coverage for an appointment.
An April 9, 2020 order required insurers to cover services provided at alternative care sites as if they were in-network. Alternative care sites include temporary hospitals built in locations such as gymnasiums. Since patients without COVID-19 may be transferred or diverted to other hospitals or care sites to manage the flow of COVID-19 patients, the requirements for insurance coverage apply even if a patient is not being treated for COVID-19.
An April 24, 2020 executive order forbid signature requirements for prescription receipts, unless there were federal signature requirements for a controlled substance. The April 24 order also specifically required health insurers to continue employer sponsored coverage for furloughed employees, if the employer wants to do so. Lastly, the April 24 order declared that, for worker's compensation purposes, it is presumed that a first responder's COVID-19 infection is occupationally-related.
No visitors for residential facilities
As part of his emergency declaration on March 13, 2020, Gov. Sununu prohibited visitors to any assisted living facilities, long term care facilities, nursing facilities, residential care facilities, and any other similar facilities for “elderly or infirm patients.”
Mortgage and rent assistance
On March 16, 2020 Gov. Sununu prohibited landlords from starting the eviction process during the state of emergency. The governor also prohibited foreclosures from moving forward. However, a later executive order made clear that tenants are still responsible for paying missed rent.
Gov. Sununu ended the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures July 1, 2020, although a federal moratorium continued for about a year longer.
In June 2020 Gov. Sununu announced that $35 million of CARES Act funds would go to housing assistance. This included grants for households that suffered a limited short-term loss of household income or increased expenses during the coronavirus shutdowns. On February 25, 2021 he announced another rental assistance program. Click here to access housing assistance.
Another 2020 executive order extended the minimum notice period for eviction from 7 to 30 days.
No utility shut-offs
On March 16, 2020 the governor forbade providers of electricity, gas and other fuel, water, telephone, cable, VOIP, and internet from disconnecting customers during the state of emergency. That order expired July 15, 2020. Utilities had to give customers the opportunity to pay back missed bills over six months.
On April 9, 2020 Gov. Sununu ordered state and local officials to work with the private sector to identify an isolation site for homeless individuals with COVID-19. The order also directed officials to work with shelters to increase social distancing.
Lastly, the April 9 order directed officials to provide non-congregate temporary housing for first responders and health care workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and could not return home due to the risk of infecting others.
Resources for victims of violence at home
On April 1, 2020 Gov. Sununu established the COVID-19 Emergency Domestic and Sexual Violence Services Relief Fund. That fund included $600,000 for domestic and sexual violence crisis centers to provide services to victims during the pandemic.
On the same day Gov. Sununu expanded various other programs aimed at family violence, including child abuse. For example, he authorized the Division of Children, Youth and Families to convert all Family Violence Prevention Specialist positions from part-time to full-time.
DMV and Toll Changes
Starting March 23, 2020 the DMV offered limited in-person appointments at their locations.
On March 27, 2020 the governor issued an executive order allowing six-month driver's license renewals without someone coming in for a vision test. Anyone renewing a disability placard or license plate was also granted a six-month extension without an in-person examination.
The March 27 order also made some changes to driver education. The classroom portion of driver education could take place completely online. Students could complete the mandatory six hours of observation with a parent driving. The order did not change the required ten hours of driving time with an instructor.
Starting March 30, 2020 the Department of Transportation only accepted exact change at toll plazas. Drivers without exact change could drive through E-ZPass lanes, then pay online or by telephone within seven days.
The state also announced it would close most rest areas and welcome centers starting April 5, 2020.
Local government changes
On March 23, 2020 Gov. Sununu waived many in-person requirements for public meetings under the right-to-know law. There would still have to be some way for the public to access the meeting remotely, for example by calling in.
On April 1, 2020 Gov. Sununu issued an executive order allowing municipalities greater flexibility in many areas during the pandemic:
- Local governing bodies could sign manifests outside public meetings, with electronic signatures.
- Local governing bodies did not have to follow meeting schedules or deadlines written in law. That includes holding planning board meetings and approving planning board applications. The executive order included a process for contractors to start building projects if permits and inspections don't go forward.
- Towns that postponed their town meetings or elections did not have to repeat hearings.
- Local governments could spend money outside the regular budget to address the COVID-19 pandemic without a public hearing. The state Department of Revenue Administration must approve any expenditures.
- Many other local government functions could move online. For example, municipalities were allowed to move welfare applications and vital records requests online or by appointment only.
On April 3, 2020 Gov. Sununu also announced that municipalities could choose to waive interest on late property tax payments.
An April 24, 2020 order waived the 28-day waiting period before a retired government employee could start working in a different government position part-time.
On May 4, 2020 Sununu announced the state was sending $40 million to cities and towns from federal funds to cover coronavirus-related expenditures.
On January 22, 2021 Gov. Sununu issued an executive order allowing towns to postpone in-person town meetings and pre-process absentee ballots.
Remote legislative activity
The New Hampshire Legislature suspended legislative activity in March 2020. The House reconvened for two days in June at the Whittemore Arena on the UNH campus in Durham. The Senate met in Representatives Hall at the Statehouse. Click here to learn about the legislation they passed.
In 2021 the New Hampshire Senate held committee meetings and public hearings virtually. Senate voting days were both virtual and in-person. Senators also combined legislation into a limited number of "omnibus" bills. Click here to learn more.
The New Hampshire House met January 6, 2021 for a "drive-in" session at the University of New Hampshire. The House later held sessions indoors, in-person at the NH Sportsplex in Bedford. House committees held meetings and public hearings with both in-person and remote participation options.
Some state representatives sued House leadership over their refusal to offer remote participation for representatives with health risks. They argue this violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The New Hampshire House is now holding committee meetings in person. Some of these meetings are livestreamed, but there is no option for remote testimony. Citizens can submit written testimony online through a new tool. Learn more here.
On December 8, 2021 House Speaker Sherman Packard announced that the House would reconvene on January 5, 2022 at the DoubleTree Manchester exposition center. In 2022 the House eventually transitioned to voting at the Statehouse in Concord.
The New Hampshire Attorney General and Secretary of State released a memo on April 10, 2020 that said, "Any voter may request an absentee ballot for the September 2020 Primary and November 2020 General Elections based on concerns regarding COVID-19."
Secretary of State Bill Gardner later assembled a six-person committee to oversee the spending of $3.2 million from the federal government to plan for elections during the pandemic. That funding helped cover the cost of processing additional absentee ballots. The committee's June report laid out a plan to provide PPE to poll workers, pay for increased absentee ballot processing, and allow voters to register by mail.
On May 13, 2020 Gov. Sununu waived the requirement for voters to appear in person to change their party affiliation before the next primary election.
Gov. Sununu later signed HB 1266, a bill that revised various election procedures to accommodate the coronavirus, such as allowing voters to simultaneously request ballots for the primary and general elections. Those changes expired at the end of 2020.
Federal policy impacting New Hampshire
On April 3, 2020 the federal government approved a major disaster declaration in New Hampshire, which gave the state access to more federal resources.
The federal government also passed six bills aimed at the coronavirus.
The first bill set aside close to $7.8 billion to combat the spread of the virus. Funding went to everything from medical supplies to local emergency preparation.
The second bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, does the following:
- Required free coronavirus testing, regardless of insurance coverage.
- Required employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave if an employee is quarantined, experiencing symptoms, or caring for a family member. Employers will get a tax credit to offset costs.
- Expanded unemployment grants to help states cover higher unemployment claims.
- Expanded funding and eligibility for various food programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The third bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, set aside over $2 trillion dollars in funding for businesses, state and local governments, and individuals impacted by COVID-19. Learn more here. New Hampshire got over $1 billion from the CARES Act, but federal guidance strictly limited that money to coronavirus-specific expenses. State and local governments were not be able to use those funds to cover general budget shortfalls if tax revenue plummeted.
A fourth bill set aside an additional $484 billion for coronavirus aid. In particular, the bill added funds to the popular Paycheck Protection Program, which provided forgivable loans for employers to cover payroll during the emergency. The fourth bill also provided additional funds for health care and coronavirus testing.
Congress passed a fifth relief bill in December 2020. After holding out over the size of individual payments ($600 per person instead of $2,000), President Trump signed the bill into law. The final bill included more emergency rental assistance, funding for vaccine distribution, an additional $300 per week for unemployment benefits, and individual payments of $600 per person.
In March 2021 the House and Senate passed a sixth relief package, called the "American Rescue Plan." The bill included $1,400 payments to individuals, an additional $300 per week for unemployment benefits, more emergency rental assistance, funding for vaccine distribution, another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, and many other funding programs. For example, this bill included $4.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), $8 billion for airports, and $128 billion for state educational agencies (both K-12 and higher education).
State management of federal money
On April 7, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced the creation of the Governor's Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR). That office and its director oversaw the use of federal funding from the CARES Act. According to the governor, the office manages "the accounting, auditing, legal, and IT requirements" for the investments. An advisory board of legislative leaders has "a voice in investment activities."
Democratic legislative leaders sued Gov. Sununu for more formal legislative involvement, but Gov. Sununu won in court.
On May 15, 2020, following input from the GOFERR legislative advisory board, Gov. Sununu announced $595 million in new spending from federal CARES Act money, including:
- $50 million more for health care, with $30 million specifically for long-term care providers
- $60 million for nonprofits
- $25 million for childcare
- $400 million for small business grants
- $15 million for farms, the NH Food Bank, and the food supply
- $15 million for the university and community college systems
- $30 million for the Business Finance Authority to distribute other forgivable business loans
On June 11, 2020 Gov. Sununu announced the following additional spending:
- $35 million for housing assistance
- $50 million for broadband development
- $15 million for homeless shelters
- $10 million for private colleges and universities
- $2 million for Chambers of Commerce
After that Gov. Sununu also announced:
- $2 million for youth focused programs (e.g. PPE for youth summer fitness programs, training for teachers on remote learning strategies)
- $2 million for community organizations that work with youth, such as Girls, Inc. and the Police Athletic League
- $1 million for the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce
- $6 million for substance use disorder and mental health treatment
- $7 million for veterans assistance
- $1.5 million for Volunteer New Hampshire
- $19 million for the university system to go to facility modifications and protective equipment
- $6 million for the community college system to provide tuition assistance for new and continuing students impacted by COVID-19
- $8 million to expand the preexisting UNIQUE scholarship program
- $1.5 million for scholarships for students in grades K-12
- $4 million for a special education provider fund
- $40 million for an additional round of business relief
- $45 million for public schools to pay for PPE, chromebooks, and other coronavirus-related necessities
Limiting the governor's emergency powers
As part of the the state budget passed in June 2021, legislators added some new limits to the governor's powers during a state of emergency. In particular, the governor must address the legislature every 90 days, at which point the legislature must vote on whether or not to end the emergency. Click here to learn more.