Shaheen reports on money for municipalities in COVID relief bill

March 10, 2021

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) told the state’s rural town managers that the American Rescue Plan contains $130.2 billion for local and county governments plus another $10 billion to assist with local and state infrastructure projects.

In a virtual meeting with town officials Monday, Shaheen provided an update on the $1.9 trillion bill, which was expected to pass Congress and be signed into law by President Joe Biden before the end of the week.

“The new COVID-19 relief package cleared by the Senate is the most robust funding assistance to date to combat the immense challenges created or exacerbated by the pandemic,” she said.

Shaheen said the bill provides $1,400 pandemic relief checks going out to individuals making up to $75,000 annually and families with an income up to $150,000 and on a sliding scale above those income limits.

There will be checks for children as well as a child tax credit refundable next year, which the senator said is estimated will cut child poverty in half. Unemployment benefits, set to expire this month, will be extended through Sept. 6 with the added $300 per week.

Shaheen said $350 billion is allocated for state and communities with $219.8 going to states and the remaining $130.2 billion going to towns and counties. She said that money will be distributed mostly on a per capita basis but need will be a factor. The senator said the good news about the money is that it can be used for previous COVID expenses including a loss of revenue because of the virus.

She noted a survey by the N.H. Municipal Association showed that average community in the state has lost an average of just under $150,000 due to the pandemic. But she said national surveys estimate that next year communities could see an average loss of about $2 million.

Shaheen said there is also money in the bill for schools, vaccines, nutrition and rental assistance. The hope, she said, is the funding package will allow the country to get through the pandemic and by fall to be in recovery and people can see their lives start to return to normal.

Margaret Byrnes, executive director of the N.H. Municipal Association, asked about the distribution of aid to municipalities.

She said only a handful of communities will qualify if the federal government follows the formula for Community Development Block Grants, which take into account poverty, deteriorated housing, and economic distress. Shaheen said the money that will go to local communities will be mostly based on population. She said her office is working on a breakdown and will get it out as soon as they have the numbers.

“So, communities, bigger communities will get more of that money because they're bigger, but it really is going to go based on population,” she said.

Gorham Town Manager Denise Vallee asked what funds will be available that have to go through the CDBG process.

Shaheen said she did not have that number but said that while the majority will be based on population there will be funding available based on need.

Vallee also asked if projects seeking infrastructure funding have to be “shovel ready.” Shaheen said she did not believe that was required but promised to get a firm answer.

Newmarket Town Manager Steve Fournier said he is worried about six months to a year from now and what is going to happen to property taxes if small businesses are not able to survive.

Shaheen said there is money in the package for small businesses and said she is hopeful the relief bill will be followed by a large infrastructure bill that will put people back to work and invest in the states.

Lincoln Town Manager Butch Burbank said his town is suffering from an inability to find workforce. He expressed concern that some are not going back to work because of the unemployment benefits. He also said there are currently 20 homes in the building permit process, which is creating a need for the town to upgrade its infrastructure and especially its water storage facilities.

Shaheen said she has heard about people moving to northern New Hampshire and while she said the state is glad to have new residents come, there will be infrastructure needs. She said there is money in the package for workforce retraining. She said there is a need to focus on getting people back to work.

Hollis Town Manager Laurie Radke spoke about a large increase in residential construction in her town and also expressed interest in infrastructure funding. Sunapee Town Manager Donna Nashwasty urged that broadband internet access be included in infrastructure needs in rural areas of the state. She also raised concern that the much of the state’s elderly population has been isolated by the pandemic because they are not online and senior centers have been closed because of the risk.

Shaheen agreed and said isolation has been a result of the pandemic especially for seniors, and she said there is funding to help with senior services.

She said experts are also seeing the impact of isolation in kids attending school remotely and domestic violence rates are up. Shaheen said mental health is an area that has to be looked at long term.

Shaheen helped lead negotiations on measures related to funding for hospitals and assistance for state and local governments during negotiations with the Senate and calls with the White House

By:  Barbara Tetreault
Source: Berlin Daily Sun