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Shaheen hears NH leaders' challenges

January 31, 2021

It was a way for town leaders across the Granite State to share their stories, concerns and challenges they face as the pandemic continues on.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen hosted a virtual meeting with New Hampshire mayors and municipal leaders Friday to hear more about how communities are handling budgetary shortfalls stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and what the impacts are for residents and businesses.

Speaking with the mayors of Somersworth, Manchester, Berlin, Claremont, Nashua, Rochester, Portsmouth, Franklin and Keene, as well as city and town managers including Town Manager Kevin Smith of Londonderry.

Shaheen listened to how revenue deficits are threatening the provision of essential services to residents as critical workers like police, firefighters and teachers face looming layoffs. Other concerns brought up included supporting the homeless population, and giving schools a big boost to help bring students back into the classroom.

During the event, Shaheen shared how she’s working across the aisle in the Senate and with the Biden administration to secure New Hampshire priorities in the newest proposed relief package – including direct local and state aid and funding for vaccinations, schools, housing and nutrition programs.

The senator said she's feeling "a lot more optimistic" on this call, adding she feels more support is on the way as a new coronavirus relief package is planned.

"The (new package) includes significant help for a whole range of things we are all dealing with," Shaheen said. 

That includes more support for Personal Protective Equipment, testing, vaccines, education support and more individual stimulus checks.

Shaheen said she feels there is bipartisan support for the new plan, but other avenues to push the relief funding bill through could happen with or without that support from the other side.

"I'm still hopeful we can get people to work together on this," she said.

Most on the call agreed that planning municipal budgets during the pandemic has been challenging. Shortfalls in municipal budgets may force layoffs of essential workers, teachers and cut funding where it may impact communities.

Rick Beckstead, mayor of Portsmouth, said the state's leaders are "all in the same boat."

He said municipal leaders talk regularly about what challenges they face and are trying to work together.

Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess said he hoped teachers could be moved up further on the state's vaccine priority list.

"To get teachers vaccinated to make everyone feel safe to get back to school," he said. 

And the numbers of vaccines have to increase, he added.

For Smith, it's a concern about local infrastructure support he hopes will be addressed at the federal level.

"Projects that can stimulate the economy," he said.

Shaheen said working on a larger infrastructure bill is expected to happen. And moving forward on that could also stimulate many more jobs and opportunities.

Shaheen said the virtual discussion gave her a good picture as to what the situation is around the state and what communities are facing.

“Our discussion made clear the dire situation our communities in New Hampshire are facing as they weather through this deadly pandemic with severely strapped funds to care for residents,” Shaheen said. “We have to make sure our local governments are equipped with the resources they need to keep our schools running, streets safe and families housed during these unprecedented times."   

By:  Julie Huss
Source: Eagle Tribune