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U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster unveils ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ plan with support from Nashua mayor

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Nashua, NH, April 30, 2020 | By Adam Urquhart

NASHUA – Two issues continue to threaten people’s lives and prevent the economy from reopening – access to testing and personal protective equipment.

In unveiling her “Roadmap to Recovery” program on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, N.H.-D2, cited access to testing and access to PPE as two problematic areas, especially when considering that many people who will eventually return to work are going to need masks, gloves and even gowns in some cases to safely do their work.

“I would want to see more federal leadership, particularly coming from the White House,” Kuster said. “I’ve been very dissapointed on the two biggest issues for us, testing and access to personal protective equipment.”

In her plan, Kuster calls for developing a National Testing Program – a national testing capacity far greater than what is currently being administered. The roadmap also seeks to ensure testing remains free for all Americans.

While many are eager to get back to work, Kuster said it is imperative to take a measured approach to reopening, particularly to avoid future spikes in cases that could overwhelm the state’s health care infrastructure. The state still is experiencing a significant number of cases each day, which is partly in response to increased testing. As testing increases moving forward, it is expected that the number of positive coronavirus disease cases also will spike. However, Kuster said this is helpful to identify and isolate those cases and stop the spread of the contagious virus.

“We are seeing the number of deaths coming down,” Kuster said. “We now have three days in a row of zero deaths, so we hope that this is a hopeful sign, but public health officials talk about a 14-day trend that you want to see before you take big steps on reopening.”

The second step is community contact tracing – when public health officials work to determine every person a positive individual may have been in contact with. The congresswoman has co-sponsored the Mobilizing America to Help Act, which would direct President Donald Trump to invoke his existing authority to dispatch Peace Corps volunteers who have returned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support emergency relief.

Similarly, on April 21 Kuster helped introduce the UNITE Act, which would increase national recruitment of AmeriCorps volunteers to create good-paying jobs for a national testing corps. The legislation would give priority consideration to unemployed veterans and authorize FEMA to hire, train and administer 10,000 additional staff to perform contact tracing.

The third step is supported isolation – a voluntary option for people to be able to go safely to a different location away from their family and other people who may become infected and have support. This may be helpful in urban areas, such as Nashua, where multiple people are living in close quarters with one another in one or two bedroom apartments.

The roadmap also highlights the need for expanding the use of the Defense Production Act for the production of PPE and medical supplies and rapid vaccine development.

THE ECONOMY

Mayor Jim Donchess joined Kuster to endorse the plan as it was unveiled Wednesday. Public health officials in Nashua will be doing more tests at the end of this week and again on Monday. While front-line health care workers are working long hours to combat the crisis, many Nashua businesses have had to either reduce hours or close entirely.

Donchess said the city has small businesses downtown and elsewhere that have been closed for many weeks, and that this situation is likely to continue for awhile. Donchess said these businesses are going to need help.

“The last I looked, which was a few days ago, we have already had 6,200 unemployment claims from Nashua residents, which is a very large percentage of the workforce, so the help that you are providing for supplemental benefits is very, very important,” Donchess said.

The congresswoman has co-sponsored the Paycheck Protection Program Extension Act, which triples the funding available through the Paycheck Protection Program to $900 billion, also allowing businesses to automatically receive new loans throughout the duration of the crisis.

The CARES Act has been providing an additional $600 in weekly assistance for those laid off or furloughed due to the crisis, and these benefits are set to expire on July 31. Kuster is a co-sponsor of the Strengthening UI for Coronavirus Impacted Workers and Students Act, which seeks to extend the $600 weekly federal supplement through the end of the year, and also expand this benefit to recent college graduates and students entering the job market. The road map also highlights the need for additional support and funding for state and local governments.

Kuster also touched upon her forthcoming legislation, the Opportunities for Heroes Act, which would provide $25,000 in student loan debt forgiveness or education credits for essential workers and their families.

“This is legislation that would provide financial assistance for paying off student loans or for going back to school and making investments in their own future – and that would be to compensate and thank the frontline heroes who have gotten us all through this,” Kuster said.