NH exempts long list of businesses, services from order

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 3/27/2020 10:47:46 PM
Modified: 3/27/2020 10:47:36 PM

LEBANON — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s stay-at-home order through early May due to the COVID-19 pandemic extended more than two weeks longer than that issued by his neighboring governor, Phil Scott in Vermont.

But it also excluded a long list of businesses and services that are deemed “essential” to the welfare of the Granite State during the crisis.

The order was meant to mitigate the spread of the virus while keeping vital components of the safety net and economy functioning, Sununu said in an interview on Friday, at the same time the state was being deluged with a record number of laid-off workers applying for unemployment benefits.

“We’re really trying to make every exception we could while also focusing on public safety,” Sununu said. “Unfortunately thousands of businesses could be devastated” in the state by the national shutdown in activity. “I don’t have a number on it.”

As of Friday, Sununu said more than 50,000 initial claims for unemployment have been filed with state’s New Hampshire Employment Security office since he loosened qualifications on March 17. By comparison, an average of about 2,000 claims per week have been filed in recent years.

New Hampshire had 690,000 nonfarm workers in January, so the unemployment claims represent about 7% of the workforce.

“Unfortunately, we expect that to grow,” Sununu said.

On Thursday, the state issued an 11-page document detailing a broad spectrum of hundreds of business and services across all sectors of the economy that are deemed “essential services” and which are exempt from the governor’s order.

The document encompasses such expected critical occupations as supermarket workers, sanitation crews, farmers, medical professionals, morticians and those involved in operating the state’s infrastructure. But it also includes occupations that might seem less critical to the function of society during a crisis, such as golf course groundskeepers, florists and bicycle repair shops.

The extensive exemptions are not unusual, observers said, and appear to be drawn from federal designations.

“The guidelines the governor put out track pretty closely to the guidelines Homeland Security put out last week,” said Jim Roche, president of Business & Industry Association in Concord, the state’s chamber of commerce. “Some states are more restrictive, some more expansive. These seem pretty much on the mark.”

On Tuesday, when Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued a stay-at-home directive that extends to April 15, the state released a brief, three-page summary of the business and services that are exempt from the order.

Upper Valley employers, even those that can continue operating, are nonetheless getting on with significantly fewer employees as business activity declines and non-essential employees are required to stay home.

Plasma jet cutting equipment maker Hypertherm, with plants in Hanover and Lebanon, qualifies as an essential manufacturer because its equipment is used in “infrastructure sectors” such as energy, transportation, agriculture and defense, said Hypertherm President Evan Smith.

“We’re still required to have all workforce that is not on-site essential stay at home, which we’ve already enacted starting a couple of weeks ago. So, we have more than 500 of our 1,200 (New Hampshire) workforce working from home,” Smith said via email on Friday.

He noted that Hypertherm is “still paying everybody at 100%, even if they’re not able to do work from home,” and two weeks of emergency leave is available to employees if they or family members are affected by the virus, including closing of schools and child care centers.

Another Upper Valley company, Newport-based Roymal Inc., is also deemed essential because it manufactures chemical coatings that are applied to food and pharmaceutical packaging that protect the contents of the products, explained Laura Stocker, president of Roymal, which employs 12 people.

“We have not experienced any kind of downturn,” Stocker said about Roymal’s business, citing the nature of the markets Roymal serves and acknowledging that the company is “fortunate, if anybody can be fortunate in this time.”

Certain sectors of the state’s economy are more affected than others under exempted businesses, according to Phil Sletten, a policy analyst with the nonpartisan New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute.

“The largest impacts might be in the retail sector, which was estimated to be the second-largest employment sector in the state in January,” Sletten said via email. “While some retail stores will certainly remain open, others are likely to either temporarily or permanently close.”

He warned that retail workers, who typically are on the lower end of the wage scale, could suffer disproportionately because they “may not have the savings to be able to endure a substantial loss of income if unemployment compensation or other income sources do not cover their expenses.”

But if the exemption for golf course grounds crew workers might strike some as odd, it should not that surprising given the nature of the work, according to Dustin Ribiloni, associate golf professional at Dartmouth-owned Hanover Country Club. The club’s dozen groundskeepers are already prepping the course for a hopeful late April opening.

“Golf courses are pretty expansive areas. We just kind of stay out of each other’s way,” he said.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

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