Sen. Dan Feltes: We need to stand up for workers, communities, and small businesses with stimulus funds

For the Monitor
Published: 4/2/2020 3:53:51 PM
Modified: 4/2/2020 3:53:41 PM

This is an unprecedented moment in our state and nation’s history. Tens of thousands of Granite Staters have been crushed by job loss. Hundreds of our small businesses have shut down. Our health care system is being pushed to the very edge.

Tough decisions are being made everywhere. But, everywhere, people are stepping up. Thank you to those on the front lines of this fight, not only sacrificing time with their families but risking their own health.

On the federal level, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas worked hard for New Hampshire, securing $1.25 billion in largely unrestricted federal resources in the latest stimulus package. We’ve never faced a crisis like this before and we’ve never received an unrestricted federal stimulus of this scale before. We owe it to the people of New Hampshire to move quickly under the tradition of open, public and transparent financial discussions.

No one party or one person has a monopoly over good ideas, so it’s critical we all participate in this discussion. Based on numerous conversations with Granite Staters in recent weeks, here are a few ideas:

First, we should create a “Frontline Worker Fund” of at least $50 million to provide direct financial assistance to frontline workers in this emergency. The fund could also support immediate training for workers being brought on to help fight this crisis. As the rest of the state stays home, our firefighters, law enforcement, first responders, public employees, grocery store workers and frontline health care workers are all going to work each and every day for all of us, putting their very health on the line for all of us.

In addition to helping show gratitude, the Frontline Worker Fund may help to attract and retain some of the needed workers in this crisis. Right now, unemployment insurance benefits are being increased for folks crushed by job loss, we ought to increase the pay of frontline workers in a Frontline Worker Fund.

Second, we need to provide assistance to our towns and cities. There should be an immediate $100 million distribution to towns and cities on a “per person” basis to help them with additional expenses. After this immediate distribution, we can explore using additional funds to make no-interest loans and/or grants to float communities if property tax collections lag.

Our communities are taking on additional costs in their schools, emergency services and other public services, and our property-tax payers shouldn’t have to bear these costs.

Third, on the small-business front, the Small Business Administration moved quickly to provide low-interest disaster relief loans, and thanks to Sen. Shaheen, the stimulus legislation included many other critical small business provisions as well as increased support. However, we must also take supplemental action at the state level. We know that while many small businesses in New Hampshire have already closed, they have a proven business model and customer base. We should set aside funds to establish a “Fast Start” grant program that allows previously established businesses that closed because of COVID-19 to erase debt and fund start-up costs.

The above ideas represent possible immediate action steps that could help all of us. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list and only a fraction of the over $1.25 billion New Hampshire is receiving in additional resources.

Just as any immediate action steps deserve public discussion and input, so too does a more comprehensive use of the remaining funds. We should explore what we can do to provide revenue relief and sustain critical state programs, including the hospital fund, while bolstering high need areas of public health, domestic violence prevention, and child protection; set aside money for future needs; expand access to health care if New Hampshire does not apply for and secure an 1115 waiver; and how else we can help our small businesses, the backbone of New Hampshire’s economy.

We should have an open and public discussion about how best to use and quickly distribute these critical funds to provide relief to our communities during this unprecedented public health crisis. Let’s start that discussion now.

(Dan Feltes is a former legal aid attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance and lives in the South End of Concord with his wife, Erin, and their two daughters, Iris and Josie. Dan serves as state senator for Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton, Penacook and Warner, and as the Senate’s majority leader. In the 2020 election, Dan is running to serve as governor.)

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