Calls for more CARES Act funding for schools, food stamps told it’s too late

  • In this photo taken Tuesday Oct. 1, 2013 volunteers gather food at the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester, N.H. to be delivered around the state. The temporary increase in food stamps also know as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program expires Oct. 31, meaning for millions of Americans, the benefits that help them put food on the table every month won?t stretch as far as they have for the past four years. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)Volunteers gather food at the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester recently. The temporary increase in food stamps expires Oct. 31. Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 11/24/2020 3:14:04 PM

A group of current and former educators from around the state sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu Monday, urging him to give the remainder of the CARES Act funds to New Hampshire public schools.

State Rep. Mary Heath penned the letter to the governor, which was signed by 40 current and former New Hampshire educators, school administrators, community leaders and school staff.

“It’s important to send the message that our public schools are important,” Heath said Monday. “Teachers are undergoing one of the most challenging times.”

However, the head of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery said all the money will be used and it’s too late to change course.

From Merrimack County, state reps. Mel Myler and David Doherty signed the letter, along with Concord ELL tutor Cheryl Bourassa, retired Concord paraeducator Laurie Koch and retired educators Jay and Nancy Dufour of Hooksett.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in March, New Hampshire received $1.25 billion in CARES Act funds from the federal government. The Department of Education allocated $33.9 million of that fund to K-12 public schools, including charter schools. In July, Sununu announced that $1.5 million was going to private, religious and home school programs.

Now, educators are saying that funding isn’t enough.

“Many of our schools across the state are still struggling. First, with the costs of opening, and now with continuing to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic because the initial amount was simply inadequate to keep teachers and students safe,” the letter reads. “Without these funds, schools cannot afford to cover the costs of technology purchases, safe water stations, plastic dividers and heating and ventilation systems that are necessary to remain open, and keep teachers, students, custodians and all adults in the buildings safe as we approach winter.”

Sununu has not said how he plans to spend the remainder of the money. The state has allocated all but $991,120 of the $1.25 billion it received. Any funds not used by the end of 2020 will revert back to the federal government.

“The bottom line is we are squarely on track to spend these funds down to the penny,” said Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs who heads the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery.

On Monday, a legislative advisory panel asked that more money be sent to families who use food stamps to get by.

Whatever CARES Act money is left as the deadline nears will be put into the state’s unemployment trust fund, Caswell said.

Democrats on the advisory panel wanted to use some remaining money for the food stamps program instead, but were defeated 4-3. They unsuccessfully argued that shifting the balance to the food stamps program would be easy to do within the existing structure and that the unemployment system would be more likely to benefit from any future federal aid packages.

“People not being able to eat, that’s a significant concern,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.

Republican lawmakers shared the concern but raised questions about whether recipients would be forced to return any money that wasn’t spent by the end of the year. Caswell suggested it was too late to change course.

“There are many causes and organizations that are in a difficult place that haven’t seen relief funds or have a developing financial need,” he said. “But the fact is these funds must be spoken for by Dec 30, and we are driven to meet that deadline and not return any funds to Washington.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

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