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Wednesday COVID Update: Business loan delays ‘unacceptable’; six more deaths; reopen plan coming

  • Courtesy—NH DHHS

Monitor staff
Published: 4/29/2020 7:54:11 AM

Banks are continuing to struggle to pass out the latest round of Paycheck Protection Program funding after computer glitches, according to the New Hampshire Banking Association.

In a sharply worded statement, the association reported that many Granite State banks have seen “little success” in submitting the loan applications to the federal Small Business Administration.

Under the payroll protection program, businesses with fewer than 500 employees may apply to their local bank to obtain a loan – anywhere from $10,000 to $10 million – at low interest rates from the SBA. 

If at least three quarters of the loan is used to go towards payroll in its first eight weeks, the federal government will forgive the loan entirely, an intended incentive for businesses to keep workers employed and off unemployment benefits.

But the first $349 billion round of funding was exhausted earlier this month, and the latest $310 billion has been slow to start. Since Monday, the “e-Tran” system has been plagued with glitches, preventing banks from passing on the food of applications to the SBA for approval.

According to the state banker’s association, New Hampshire lending institutions were read to start sending in the applications at 10:30 a.m. Monday, when the new round of funding came online.

“Bankers worked throughout the day yesterday and overnight into today, hoping that less demands on the SBA’s system overnight might result in more success filing loan applications,” the association said Tuesday. 

“So far that has not been the case, as bankers continue to experience painfully slow and intermittent access to the SBA system, unacceptably slowing their ability to submit PPP loan applications on behalf of borrowers in need of immediate assistance.”

N.H. Bankers Association President Kristy Merrill called the software breakdowns “unacceptable” Tuesday, urging “immediate steps to fix this ongoing problem” at the federal level.

The numbers

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire has topped 2,000 as the daily count continues to edge upward.

The state reported 50 new positive test results Wednesday, bringing the overall total to 2,054 – and six new deaths. Sixty-six people have now died, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said.

The state also announced two new outbreaks at nursing homes: Hackett Hill in Manchester and Mountain Ridge in Franklin. Mountain Ridge has seen 2 staff people and 15 people contract the virus. 

Reopen guidelines

New Hampshire state officials will be releasing an outline Friday detailing how the state could be gradually re-opened.

At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu said the state would take a “flexible” approach through a phased re-opening.

“What we’re looking to do is simply do that flex around certain areas of the state, where we believe at an appropriate time, in coordination with public health, we can open in a smart, responsible phased approach that is always putting public health first.”

The governor also highlighted new access for COVID-19 testing. New Hampshire has relaxed its testing criteria this week; now, as long as a person has one symptom of the novel coronavirus, they can get a test.

Anyone with any symptom – like a fever, cough, shortness of breath, shaking, chills, or a loss of taste or smell – should call their primary care doctor. If they don’t have a doctor, they should call Convenient MD, which has outlets across the state, Sununu said. 

School funding

New Hampshire school districts are getting more flexibility to spend money during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many communities have had to delay their annual meetings to approve school district budgets because of the prohibition on large gatherings.

Sununu issued an emergency order Tuesday allowing districts to make reasonable expenditures in line with prior year spending, and to go beyond the previous budget’s appropriations if necessary without holding a public hearing if they get approval from the state Department of Education.

The order also gives the state commissioner of education authority to waive or modify various assessment, evaluation and accountability requirements to accommodate remote instruction.

Competing roadmaps

Talks over how to spend New Hampshire’s $1.25 billion in stimulus money are still in progress, but Democratic lawmakers say they have their own roadmap.

In a news release Tuesday, the New Hampshire Senate Democrats unveiled the “Granite Promise Proposal,” a 5-page document outlining broad spending areas for the $1.25 billion. 

And some of it could be at odds with the governor’s vision. 

The plan includes money to the Department of Employment Security to be able to continue to provide the $600 a week in supplemental unemployment assistance currently being provided via Congress. That federal money is set to expire at the end of July.

The Democrats’ plan also includes $75 million to small businesses; $100 million in a municipal grant, property tax assistance for businesses and individuals; $75 million in housing assistance for landlords, tenants, and homeowners; $125 million for hospitals and health care providers, $40 million for broadband expansion, and other areas.

One potentially contentious area: a $250 million set aside to backfill transfers in the budget due to coronavirus. Sununu has pointed to U.S. Treasury guidance that says the money can’t be used to replace state revenue, but it is unclear whether reimbursements are allowed.

The governor – whose office presently has sole spending authority for the money under his emergency order – has not yet reacted to all of the plan, though he expressed criticism at extending unemployment benefits. 

A spokesman for the governor, Ben Vihstadt, criticized Democrats for unveiling the plan outside of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery, which includes an advisory panel of lawmakers. That office is still hearing input from stakeholders, from industry groups to hospitals, and has not yet unveiled a broad plan. 

“The Democrats could have presented this plan before the bipartisan Legislative Advisory Board yesterday, but instead chose to issue a partisan press release,” Vihstadt said. 

Democratic legislative leaders have long bristled at the idea of treating that advisory committee as the only way to participate in the stimulus spending process. 

Last week, top Democratic lawmakers challenged the governor in court, requesting that the legislative Fiscal committee be given formal input. That lawsuit was thrown out by the Hillsborough Superior Court judge over a lack of standing. Spokespeople for the House and Senate did not say whether they would attempt re-submit the lawsuit or appeal. 

(Staff writer David Brooks contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press on school spending was used in this report.)

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