Our Turn: We must use stimulus funding to ease burden on communities
By DAN FELTES, CINDY ROSENWALD, MARTHA HENNESSEY and SHANNON CHANDLEY For the Monitor Published: 4/17/2020 5:24:09 PM Modified: 4/17/2020 5:23:57 PM
In a time of crisis, New Hampshire communities have stepped up to support one another and ensure that we continue to function under extraordinary circumstances.
Our cities have worked in tandem with hospitals and FEMA to set up surge centers. Teachers, support staff and school administrators quickly transitioned to remote learning. Our school buses have been repurposed to make sure students relying on free and reduced lunch still have access to healthy meals throughout the week. Across the state we hear stories of how the Granite State has innovated, modified and supported necessary change. However, those changes come at a cost – one that no town, city or school district could have truly planned for. In a recent presentation to legislators, the New Hampshire Municipal Association (NHMA) reported on survey results collected from 125 towns and cities that gave an estimate of $7.6 million in COVID-19 related expenses between March 13 and today. When a town select board has its first ever remote meeting that requires the testing, purchase and distribution of new technology, security measures must be put in place to keep the meetings public but not allow hacking or disruption. In that same survey from the NHMA, 63% of the towns and cities reported increased expenses around technology.
Homeless shelters, which tend to be at or over capacity at this time of year under normal circumstances have been given the directive to partner with the private sector to provide quarantine sites for homeless individuals as well as reducing the number of people in the shelters themselves to allow for proper social distancing.
Our cities and towns are providing temporary housing for our first responders and health care workers who continue to put their own health on the line every day and do not want to risk infecting other members of their households.
Our communities have taken on additional costs in their schools, emergency services, and additional public services. Their acts of humanity should not spark additional costs to property-tax payers.
Above all, while we don’t yet know the full impact we do know that the economic downturn, and anticipated revenue declines, spurred by the pandemic will have an effect on municipal budgets. It is of the utmost importance that we do all we can to ensure that while we protect public health we don’t shift the burden of those costs onto New Hampshire property-tax payers.
At the end of the month, New Hampshire will be receiving $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funding through the CARES Act. It is crucial that part of that funding be used to provide assistance to our towns and cities. We suggest an immediate $100 million distribution to towns and cities on a per-person basis to help with additional expenses incurred by the novel coronavirus.
Following this immediate distribution, we need to look at the long-term impacts our towns and cities will face in the event that property tax collections lag. There is the possibility that some of the federal funding could be used to make no-interest loans or grants that could float communities awaiting property tax collection to make sure essential municipal services remain funded.
The impacts of COVID-19 will be felt throughout our state, our nation and our world for years. It is impossible to say what the world will look like on the other side of this crisis. What we do know is that the Granite State will continue to stand strong and stand together. Our communities have come together and prove, every day, what we are capable of under extraordinary circumstances. Those stories – your actions – are what will bring New Hampshire out of this dark time and into a new chapter.
As your state senators, we need to hear your voice. The way that this monumental stimulus funding is distributed will significantly shape our road to recovery and it cannot be done without hearing from the very people it will impact.
As we wait for the CARES Act funding to arrive at the end of April, we call on the Granite State to make your voice heard and tell us how COVID-19 has impacted you and your community. You can share how you believe these funds should be distributed in the best interest of New Hampshire by emailing the Joint Fiscal Committee here: NHCovid19Stimulus@leg.state.nh.us.
Continue to check on your friends, family and neighbors. We will come out of standing tall, and standing together.