By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu spent much of his weekly news conference Thursday detailing how he expects to spend many millions of dollars the state expects to recoup from businesses that received CARES Act Funds but didn’t lose revenue because of COVID-19, plus the new funding from the American Rescue Plan.
The beneficiaries are expected to be small businesses even if they didn’t lose revenue during the pandemic and the hotel and lodging industry, live venues, clean drinking water, broadband expansion, mental health services, and state parks. No final determinations have been made on specific programs.
Sununu said the state expects to recoup $50 million from businesses that accepted grants but didn’t end up losing money and many new opportunities from the lastest round of federal funds that will bring almost $1 billion to the state of New Hampshire and another $450 million to municipalities and counties.
He also made it clear that the state is doing incredibly well economically in spite of the pandemic.
“We have one of, if not the strongest economies, in the country,” Sununu said. “Everyone is looking for employees. If you are a job seeker, there are a lot of job lookers.”
Sununu updated CARES Act spending that quickly went out the door to small businesses last year to offset losses expected due to COVID-19. It included $340 million that went to 5,000 small businesses in the Main Street Relief Fund, but some businesses that received grants on expected business losses actually gained business, he said.
In New Hampshire, fewer businesses closed in 2020 than closed in 2019. “We were the only state in the nation” where that happened, Sununu said.
“Unfortunately, under federal CARES Act rules, the state is required to recoup” any unused relief funds where business revenue wasn’t lost, he said.
“The state does not need or want to take that money back, but we are stuck with those federal limitations,” Sununu said.
In broad strokes without providing details, Sununu said new programs are being established to get that money back out the door to businesses.
Sununu said those recouped funds will again be made available to small businesses regardless of whether they lost revenue due to COVID-19 because they likely had to spend a great deal on COVID-19-related expenses.
“We are going to release that money back to the community to support other unmet needs of small businesses,” he said.
The details are still being finalized by the Governor’s Office For Emergency Relief and Recovery on how to reinvest it.
The dollars will help hotel and lodging industry and live venues, he said.
As to the new federal dollars, he said the state has received no guidance as yet on how that can be spent. But his team is working on having programs ready that will include investments in clean drinking water, broadband expansion, mental health services and state parks.
He also suggested that people who need help paying rent or mortgage help contact CAPNH.org for help as there are millions of dollars available for help.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, provided the update on COVID-19 cases, reporting 269 new infections Thursday, three new deaths – one of which was associated with a long-term care facility – averaging in the last week 200 to 250 new infections a day, down from last week.
Currently there are 1,849 people with active COVID-19 infections, a total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic at 1,311 and the positivity rate is averaging about 3.6 percent, which is also trending down, Chan said. Eighty-eight people are hospitalized with COVID-19.
“Overall the COVID-19 numbers continue to slowly trend down. This is some good news but overall COVID-19 remains high in many of our communities,” Chan said. “High vaccination rates combined with ongoing mask use, social distancing and avoiding crowds and gatherings will bring our numbers down more quickly and limit the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths and will help end the pandemic more quickly so we can all get back to a more normal life.”
Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, said the state has administered 1,190,000 doses of vaccine against COVID-19.
Fifty-three percent of the population has received their first dose and 36 percent are fully vaccinated.
She said that is a good start, but encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.
“We are anxiously awaiting the FDA review of Pfizer vaccine for use in 12 to 15 years,” Daly said. Once that approval is granted the state is prepared to do the vaccinations. More information will be provided later on how to register.
She said every Saturday in May there will be J and J vaccine events at state sites in Salem, Newington, Nashua and Concord from 1 to 6 p.m. Vaccination appointments should be scheduled in the VINI system, she said.