By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Helping hospitals, residential care facilities and childcare centers quickly are early priorities of the Legislative Advisory Committee distributing federal aid to help with the coronavirus pandemic.
But the members continued to ask Monday for detailed information on relief funds already distributed by the governor and the amount of the $1.25 billion CARES Act funds already allocated.
The legislative committee of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery noted the need to begin reimbursing the state’s unemployment trust — which is distributing money at a record rate — before the state has to borrow money to pay benefits.
The last time the state had to borrow money in the 2008 great recession came at a significant cost to New Hampshire businesses, said advisory committee chair Senate Minority Leader Chuck Morse, R-Salem, who developed a working document for the committee.
Several members of the committee said the $600 weekly unemployment stipend included in the CARES Act is causing problems as small businesses begin to reopen.
“The $600 bonus is a very sticky item, particularly for the restaurant industry,” Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said. “They are making more money collecting unemployment than they receive working and the bonus is in place until July 31.”
The problem has to be dealt with on the national level, he noted, but restaurants and other small businesses have problems if they can’t rehire workers.
House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, suggested a provision requiring a medical reason not to return to work or concern about contracting the virus, but noted it is a federal law and there is little New Hampshire lawmakers can do.
Other Federal Funds
Morse, Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, and other members, said the committee needs to know what other federal funds are available to hospitals or post-secondary education that will impact how much money the committee recommends for relief.
“Before we take final action we need to have the information from your office — the (Legislative Budget Assistant) has done a handout — of what federal dollars are coming in,” Soucy said, “and the anticipated allocation of those resources.”
Jerry Little, director of the GOFERR, said his office has been trying to track the other federal money for the coronavirus pandemic but it is a difficult task. He noted his office has contacted state agencies asking them to inform the office when they receive federal funds and how they are distributed.
One of the areas of interest is what hospitals have already received in federal funding from an earlier federal payout.
“As a committee we have consensus that a portion (of the CARES funds) should go out immediately (to hospitals),” Morse said, but the committee needs to know what other funds they have received.
D’Allesandro noted the state received $126 million with some earmarked for hospitals, but there has been no breakdown of the distribution, and he also said the committee has not been updated since April 16 on the $50 million hospital help fund the governor established.
Little said the governor’s office is working on the report of what has already been allocated and it will be put on the office’s website and updated weekly.
He said the $50 million fund was not as popular as anticipated as only a few hospitals applied for the money.
But several members said they know of hospitals and medical care providers that have applied for help but have either not heard or been denied.
D’Allesandro said he has heard from several hospitals who sought funds but did not receive any, and Soucy and Rep. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, reported similar concerns.
Like hospitals, several committee members noted, some provider segments need immediate help.
Soucy said the $50 million suggested is not enough. “The impact on long-term care facilities has been enormous,” she said, “and it will take them some time to recover.”
About half of the deaths from COVID-19 in New Hampshire have been in long-term care facilities.
Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, asked if the category includes area agencies which serve the developmentally disabled, noting the North County agency has great need and does not qualify for the Payroll Protection Program because it has too many employees. The other nine agencies received loans under the program.
Morse suggested they break the category into smaller sections like nursing homes and area agencies and suggest funding levels. “There’s not any one of these categories that isn’t getting hit hard,” he said.
Morse said they need to develop some guidance and details soon because they need money to help with the revenue shortfalls from March and April.
Wallner said the group needed to have a serious discussion about what to do because “a lot of people will not go back to work unless child care is in place.”
She said 700 childcare facilities have not been open for six to seven weeks which means no income.
“We have to look at their needs and it has to be done rapidly,” Wallner said. “We can’t drag this out if we want workers (to return to work), we need childcare.”
Like other areas, the committee members said they need additional information about what federal money has already been distributed in different areas, and what other federal funds are available to help.
Morse noted an earlier federal relief program provided $37 million for elementary and secondary education, $41 million for higher education and $9 million directly to the governor, which he has already said he will hold until August.
D’Allesandro noted the university and community college systems, as well as private colleges and universities all refunded millions of dollars in room and board fees when they closed their campuses in March. He said it would be good to be able to help them.
He also proposed a public school recovery plan for secondary schools to help prepare students to reenter schools this fall.
D’Allesandro said the students will have done virtual learning for four or five months and summer programs could help reorient them for returning to classrooms in the fall.
Businesses and Nonprofits
Committee members said they believed using the Business Finance Authority as the conduit to distribute money to businesses and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to distribute to Nonprofits would work well as both entities are set up to do that now.
D’Allesandro noted the state depends on nonprofits to deliver a lot of services.
Wallner said there are many kinds of nonprofits and they may want to consider breaking it down.
Some nonprofits provide health and home care services, and others are museums, cultural centers and theaters.
Little noted he received a letter asking to set up a separate category for health-care related nonprofits.
Cities, Towns and Counties
The committee discussed ways to help municipalities, counties and state government with costs directly related to the COVID-19 epidemic including hazardous duty pay for first responders like police, fire and emergency medical workers.
Federal guidance on spending CARES Act money prohibits its use to help replenish state and local tax collection shortfalls, although D’Allesandro contends the virus is solely responsible for the deficits which could be $200 million for the state this fiscal year ending June 30.
Little told the committee the governor was making an announcement later in the day about helping municipalities with COVID costs.
The governor announced a $40 million fund to cover COVID-related costs and $25 million for hazardous pay for police, fire, corrections and emergency medical personal.
The members of the committee had not heard about the plan.
“Whatever the governor says today,” Morse said, “we need it broken down so we can understand what is going on.”
Boards to Meet
The legislative and stakeholders advisory groups hope to meet later this week to go over priorities, the process to distribute the money and various spending levels.
Morse said they hope to be able to merge the two sets of recommendations if possible to present to the governor.
The stakeholders committee meets Tuesday at 1 p.m. and the legislative committee is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com