NHBR Q&A: GOFERR Director Jerry Little
The state’s banking commissioner is overseeing how to determine spending $1.25 billion in federal aid under the CARES Act
Jerry Little, the state’s banking commissioner since 2016, was recently appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu to head up the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery, or GOFERR, which is tasked with figuring out how to distribute the $1.25 billion that New Hampshire has been given under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
Q. The CARES Act allocates $1.25 billion to New Hampshire while two prior acts also distributed money to the states, and Congress is currently considering another tranche of funding for the states. About how big do you expect GOFERR’s bankroll to be?
A. GOFERR was established to allocate and distribute the funding provided to the state under the CARES Act totaling $1.25 billion. Additional funding available to New Hampshire may be from alternate sources and would not fall under the GOFERR’S authority to distribute.
Q. Money from Washington always comes with strings. What, if any, restrictions will limit how these funds can be used? The governor has said the funds cannot be applied to the state budget. Does this mean the money must all be distributed to the private sector, including nonprofit organizations?
A. We received guidance from the federal government on April 22 that provides the framework for how this funding may be disbursed. Generally, these funds can be used to address expenses that are directly attributable to the Covid-19 public health crisis.
GOFERR has initial guidance that was provided in the CARES Act, which states that the funds may be used for expenses that: are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to Covid–19; were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of the date of enactment of this section for the state or government; and were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on Dec. 30, 2020.
Q. The funds must be spent by the end of the calendar year. Does this mean they will be applied to one-time expenditures rather than long-term investments?
A. Funding must be disbursed by Dec. 30, 2020. We are working to determine if this will come in the form of grants or loans or a combination of the two. We continue to work with the legislative and stakeholder advisory boards to develop a comprehensive plan for distribution.
Q. The federal government is already providing some financial assistance to both employers and employees through the Small Business Administration and Department of Employment Security. What outstanding needs do you expect GOFERR to address?
A. We must adhere to the instructions laid out in the federal guidance, which allows funding to be provided to any business or nonprofit organization that would qualify under their specified terms. We also will consider the input from the advisory boards and our objective of providing timely disbursements that will have the greatest effect in communities across the state.
In addition, GOFERR has held public meetings with both the legislative advisory and stakeholder advisory boards to hear from impacted industries and communities regarding their immediate needs and the ongoing impact their response to the Covid-19 pandemic will have. Meetings of these boards will continue, and we are listening closely to the people of New Hampshire in our communities, those providing essential services as well as businesses large and small to identify the social and economic impacts Covid-19 has had on our state today and looking forward.
Q. Do you foresee opportunities to increase the impact of these additional funds by leveraging them against programs already underway at the Business Finance Authority, Community Development Finance Authority or other agencies?
A. As we continue to work with stakeholders, we expect to identify the most effective options for transparent and expeditious allocation of these resources. At this point, we are considering a variety of mechanisms for distributing these funds, including working with the organizations you reference.
Q. The poorest among us are always hit hardest by economic disruption. Although the federal government has extended the eligibility and waived the work requirement for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) it has not increased benefits. Should the state consider drawing from these funds to pick up some of the slack?
A. Our focus continues to be how we can best allocate and distribute the CARES Act funding, which may include opportunities to support public resources available at the state level.
Q. In addition to providing immediate relief, do you expect to fund measures like testing and contact tracing that will be required to reopen the economy?
A. We are considering a variety of options, and at this time, GOFERR has not made any final determinations on how, specifically, this funding will be utilized. If an entity like a town or healthcare provider was going to conduct additional testing and investigations, the costs of that work are certainly something that could be considered. At the same time, we want to be sure that we don’t expend CARES Act funds on expenses that would otherwise be reimbursed by FEMA disaster relief programs.