Shaheen visits Berlin, reports on American Rescue Plan benefits

April 06, 2021

BERLIN -U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) met with Tri-County Community Action Program officials and Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier Thursday to describe how the newly passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan can help address some of the hardships caused by the year-long pandemic.

"The Tri-County CAP has played a crucial role in delivering relief to those who need it most during this crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, staff at the agency have worked around the clock to help North Country families put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, access affordable child care and so much more," said Shaheen. "The agency deserves every possible resource to continue its essential work on the frontlines serving North Country communities, which is why I worked to secure provisions in the American Rescue Plan to strengthen critical Tri-County CAP programs residents rely on."

Shaheen said she trying to get out around the state to make officials and people aware of what is in the bill for New Hampshire. She said the bill contains just over $1.5 billion for the Granite State, divided between state and local governments. In addition, there is just under $1.5 billion in stimulus payments to nearly 600,000 Granite Staters, which many have already received.

Shaheen said Berlin is expected to receive $1 million and Coos County $6.12 million in local aid from the bill. That does not include other programs funded through the bill.

She cautioned that determining how much a community will receive in total is difficult because federal assistance is spread across many different funding streams.

Grenier, who also serves as a county commissioner, said city and county officials will take a close look at the rules governing how the money can be spent. He said he will recommend being very careful handling the funds and not get in a trap of spending one-time money for operating programs, leaving taxpayers to absorb future costs.

Tri-County CAP CEO Jeanne Robillard said her agency has been very careful about how it handles COVID-related funding after its past experience taking on projects and then having to continue funding them when the grant monies ran out.

Shaheen said one of the benefits of the American Rescue Plan is there is flexible funding that communities can use for ongoing COVID-related expenses and to replace revenues lost because of the pandemic. She said there is also money for investment in infrastructure because there was awareness of the big backlog.

Shaheen said the stimulus bill contains rental and mortgage assistance, a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, an extension of pandemic school meals program through September, and an increase in WIC funds for fresh fruit and vegetables as well as milk and dairy.

Saying "food insecurity is huge up here", Robillard said the funding for WIC and other food programs is very welcome.

Tri-County Director of Prevention Services Kristi Letendre said she was surprised when administrating two housing programs to find out that people would go without eating and not fill their prescriptions to stay current on their rent.

Shaheen said the plan includes money for child care and development along with $1.7 billion for Head Start. She said the plan also expands the child tax credit, which the data shows should cut child poverty in this country in half.

"Folks sure do need it, especially folks in the areas that we serve here at the top of the state. There's less of everything - less of everything and more need for it," Robillard said of the local aid.

Letendre said she appreciates that the latest stimulus bill has programs, like the housing assistance, targeted at the middle class.

She said TCCAP is trying to get the message out to working families that are struggling that they may qualify for help.

Shaheen said this is an open enrollment period for health insurance through Obamacare and reported that tax credits are now available to families who are at 400 percent of the poverty rate, increasing the number of middle class households that qualify.

The new stimulus bill also provides 100 percent of the cost of COBRA health coverage for all workers eligible because of involuntary termination or reduction in hours.

Grenier asked if workers laid off at Gorham Paper and Tissue would qualify and Shaheen said they are still waiting for guidance from the Treasury Department but said she will get an answer.

Shaheen said the American Rescue Plan contains $6 billion to help the restaurant industry and more support for the payroll protection plan to help small businesses. The latest stimulus bill contains an employee retention tax credit for new businesses.

There is also $3.5 billion in the bill to address mental health and substance abuse.

Though his work with the youth hockey, Grenier said he has observed some kids struggling mentally and having difficulty interacting with other kids.

Shaheen said New Hampshire will receive about $350 million for education and said that money can be used for COVID-related expenses as well as to hire additional counselors.

Robillard said it has been a long winter for her employees who work to help people through the pandemic. She said she has seen an increase in staff using the employee assistance program.

Robillard said the TCCAP board voted to give all its employees an extra holiday on April 19.

Transit Division Director Brenda Gagne said the employees are dedicated to the communities they serve and have worked hard.

The bill also includes $20.2 million to help New Hampshire community health centers expand access to vaccines and $40.9 million to help expand COVID-19 testing in Granite State schools.

By:  Barbara Tetreault
Source: Berlin Daily Sun