Less than $1M left of CARES Act’s $1.25 billion, none for food stamps

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Taylor Caswell heads the GOFERR Committee.

CONCORD, NH – The state has $991,120 left of its $1.25 billion CARES Act funds and is “squarely on track to spend these dollars down to the penny” by the end of the calendar year, Taylor Caswell, head of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery, told the Legislative Advisory Board on Monday.

“We are all running out of resources,” Caswell said, without a new stimulus package from Washington.

While that may come in the next year, the advisory committee was told that there is no time left to make more allocations. Several legislative members were pushing to have the remaining fund balance used to help people with food stamps.

Any money leftover from the CARES Act will go into employment security, the governor said, but state Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, asked for it instead to go into the SNAP for families in need of food in December. The vote failed on partisan lines with four Republicans voting no and three Democrats voting yes.

After the vote, Soucy said: “From the first day of this pandemic, we have understood that the onset of winter would bring unprecedented challenges to our most vulnerable populations. According to the NH Food Bank, we have seen a 57 percent increase in food insecurity, including 21-23 percent of our children, due to COVID-19.”

State Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, opposed it as he was under the impression that any remaining balance will go to the unemployment fund.

Other pressing needs are coming to the attention of the legislative leaders.

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said he is starting to see a whole new round of requests but with a lack of federal funds, the conversation might go to the legislative side and the state budget, which opens a new session at the beginning of next year.

“There are no more funds,” from the federal government, Morse said. “I don’t think the GOFERR committee is the place to do that unless there is a new, federal allocation.”

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said he wanted to get into some depth of the Mascoma Health Center, which was looking at having to close its doors in the Canaan area because of the pandemic. The advisory group was able to get $110,000 from the CARES Act and will work on the second piece of it in January with a $20,000 a  month stipend coming from the legislative side, Morse said.

D’Allesandro said he feels that there will be money that will go unspent from the CARES Act. He urged more money go in addition to food stamps, to local hospitals and small businesses.

The second round of business relief is now going out, said Caswell, who is head of the GOFERR office.

Lisa English of the GOFERR staff said with regard to hospitals, federal Health and Human Services is preparing the third phase of grants worth $23 billion and hospitals may be able to tap into some of that.

State Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, said she shared D’Allesandro’s concerns and wondered why state hospital staff would not be getting the additional $300 a week stipend going out to Medicaid providers.

English said they were not part of the program that rolled out in the summer and are not now in the second wave. Caswell said the timing and to be able to spend that would be a challenge in and of itself. There are other federal resources, he said, that should be examined.

“We are really up against a timeline,” Caswell said.

The Legislative Advisory Committee adjourned to a call of the chair if more federal money is available next year and the governor wants to reactivate it.