BY GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The Legislative Advisory Committee is initially recommending a package of $345 million in federal CARES Act funds to help hospitals, health-care providers, nursing homes, businesses, nonprofits, local government and others.
The bipartisan agreement is what the eight-member advisory committee to the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery believes needs to be distributed as quickly as possible.
The committee also added several areas it believes will need to be addressed in the future such as the homeless and housing, additional testing, the state’s unemployment trust fund, legislative costs, broadband expansion and the state budget.
“This is a good start,” said committee chair Senate Minority Leader Chuck Morse, R-Salem. “There’s an awful lot more to do, but it is a good start.”
At a press conference later in the day, Gov. Chris Sununu said he would look at the recommendations as the lawmakers have been on the front lines and will have good ideas and try to move forward as quickly as possible, but noted he is not beholden to take every suggestion the committee makes.
“No doubt there will be some common ground,” Sununu said, “and things we can move very quickly on.”
One area the committee emphasized was help for hospitals hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic as they shutdown voluntary procedures to prepare to take coronavirus infected patients.
The hospital association estimated hospitals lost $200 million in March with larger losses expected for April.
The legislative committee recommends $100 million be available to help the hospitals that lost the most money during the two-month period, minus federal help they have already received.
They also would like to see the money go to the hospitals as grants and not loans. The $50 million health systems relief fund established by Sununu in March has distributed about $20 million to date in loans.
Sununu said Monday the hospitals and other health-care providers have received over $300 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds with hundreds of millions of dollars more expected.
He said a dozen hospitals have received more than $1 million each in federal money — not part of the state’s $1.25 billion allocation — that helped with many hospital’s cash flow issues.
Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the money should be distributed as expeditiously as possible, noting even with the federal money for the hospitals, some are still experiencing significant losses.
The surge of infected patients did not materialize as expected, and hospitals are in the process of returning to providing essential procedures, which will help hospitals increase revenue in the coming months, and the committee agreed to review the issue in a month.
The committee also decided to change its allocations for other healthcare providers, which was originally targeted at $50 million.
A separate section for nursing homes was created with $20 million, and the other providers would have $40 million in aid.
Committee members noted the large percentage of the state’s deaths from COVID-19 have been in long-term care facilities.
The committee also increased its recommendation to help childcare facilities as the state begins to allow businesses to open. About 90 percent of the childcare facilities shut down since February as the coronavirus spread.
The committee voted to increase help from $15 million to $25 million, as members said employees will not be able to return to work if they cannot find childcare for their children.
The committee also added $5 million in aid for private colleges in the state. The committee suggests the University System of New Hampshire receive $10 million in aid and the Community College System of New Hampshire receive $5 million.
Other recommendations include providing $100 million for businesses to be distributed through the Business Finance Authority working with regional development corporations.
Morse asked if the committee needed to detail how the money should be distributed, similar to the recommendation from the Stakeholders Advisory Committee, and Jerry Little, Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery executive director, said ultimately the governor would decide if he is comfortable with the arrangement using existing agencies to help distribute and oversee the application process.
Morse noted the legislative committee believes using agencies like the Business Finance Authority is the most efficient way to distribute aid to businesses.
Soucy said she would include the suggestion in the cover letter that would accompany the recommendations.
“Using existing mechanisms . . . like the BFA with a good track record can get money out quickly and fairly to the places that need it,” she said.
The committee also doubled its recommendation for aid for nonprofits from $15 million to $30 million.
The Community Development Finance Authority, the NH Charitable Trust and the Center for Nonprofits have a proposal to help a wide range of nonprofits from social and health service organizations to arts and cultural facilities that requests $125 million in aid.
Morse said the committee should revisit the area next month and “talk about where we need to land.”
The section also includes $5 million in aid for the New Hampshire Food Bank.
The committee also recommends a $5 million fund to aid agriculture, including dairy farms and vegetable and plant growers.
Agriculture Commissioner Shawn Jasper said the coronavirus shutdown crashed milk prices as restaurants and schools closed, and he feared many dairy farms would not survive without help.
The committee’s recommendations also include the $40 million Sununu has already announced for cities, towns and counties to reimburse their coronavirus costs and $25 million for front-line workers including police, firefighters, corrections officers and emergency medical workers. The committee voted to add child protection workers who meet face-to-face with families to those receiving the stipend.
The government sector also includes the $75 million fund Sununu announced for Medicaid funded direct care workers.
The committee recommendation of $345 million in spending and what Sununu has already approved $255 million total $600 million of the $1.25 billion state allocation.
The committee will meet Monday to hear presentations on housing and homeless services.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.