By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Using existing agencies and organizations to distribute federal CARES Act money is a recommendation of the Stakeholders Advisory Board of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery.
The board met Tuesday and voted unanimously “not to reinvent the wheel” but instead use state boards like the Business Finance Authority as well as organizations like the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to be clearing houses for applications and distribution networks for funneling the $1.25 billion in federal money to businesses, nonprofits, health care and social service providers, and others harmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Committee chair Donnalee Lozeau, of Southern New Hampshire Services and former Nashua mayor, presented a diagram of how the money could be distributed using existing agencies and organizations, noting her list is not meant to be all-inclusive.
The organizations are designed to distribute money, manage the application process under guidance and review, she said.
“This would be hard to recreate from whole cloth,” Lozeau said “and we should not ignore what is workable and in place.”
All of the other members of the committee agreed and voted to make the recommendation, which will be drafted, reviewed and sent to the governor.
“Using those existing distribution systems who have their own connections to businesses or nonprofits,” said committee member Bill Ardinger, an attorney at Rath, Young and Pignatelli, “is a more effective way of getting money out than direct grants like the governor did yesterday to (local governments).”
He said the organizations have experience with the application process, and know how to comply with the federal reporting process.
Others noted it would be more efficient and could make distribution quicker to those who need help immediately.
“Using the existing system we have in place, we’ll be ready, once funding is available,” said Nancy Merrill, Claremont’s planning and development director and former Deputy Agriculture Commissioner, “to move funds out and don’t have to set anything up.”
Several committee members noted there is urgency to distributing some of the funds, particularly for small, family-run businesses.
Amy LaBelle, of LaBelle Winery, said she just heard of two family-run restaurants that will not be reopening.
That will change the face of state’s hospitality industry if the locally owned restaurants go out of business and only the national restaurant chains survive.
Dean Christon, executive director of the NH Housing Finance Authority, agreed the money needs to go out quickly.
Using existing agencies and organizations “allows for the release of the dollars in an efficient and expeditious way,” he said. “There is a lot of angst and pain out there so the available resources need to be distributed as quickly as they possibly can.”
Committee members, like their counterparts on the Legislative Advisory Committee of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery said they also need to know what other federal monies are being distributed in New Hampshire besides the CARES Act in order to make good decisions on where the $1.25 billion should be spent.
Former Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said deciding where the money should be spent cannot be done in a vacuum.
A lot of money coming into the state does not address all the needs in every sector, he said.
“We have to take into account how to utilize the $1.25 billion,” Meyers said “and focus on the needs not addressed by other funding.”
Several other members suggested the money be given out as forgivable loans and not grants so there would be accountability but the money may be paid back.
Several committee members suggested they not make specific recommendations for the amount of money businesses or nonprofits should receive but rather set priorities for the areas they believe have the greatest need.
Along with immediate needs, committee members noted, the state should hold money in reserve for what they said is bound to be a second wave of requests for aid in June and July.
The $1.25 billion has to be spent by the end of the year or returned to the federal government.
The stakeholders and legislative advisory committees are scheduled to hold a joint meeting Friday at 1 p.m.
The stakeholders committee meets again Thursday, while the legislative committee meets Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com