COVID-19 has dramatically impacted our economy and has affected every Granite State family. Thousands in New Hampshire have found themselves wading through unemployment, confronting the loss of employer-sponsored health insurance, or being forced to close their family business.
Prior to serving in the State Senate and during the Great Recession, I served as a legal aid attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance where I represented families crushed by job loss, seeking unemployment insurance, homeowners across New Hampshire facing foreclosure from big Wall Street banks, and people of all ages needing access to quality, affordable health care. That was a difficult time for working families across New Hampshire. This is worse.
The reality is the TARP bailouts of the Great Recession didn’t put people first. The banks and big businesses were bailed out while working families were faced with debt and left holding the bag. We cannot make that mistake again. That’s exactly why Governor Sununu’s comments on Monday were deeply concerning. Governor Sununu said that the “vast majority” of the federal stimulus funds should go to private businesses with no conditions that they protect jobs or return their payrolls to previous levels. Furthermore, he wants no oversight or accountability when it comes to selecting the recipients of the funds or spending the $1.25 billion in taxpayer money. We have seen this tactic before. In the bailouts of the past, corporate special interests got millions of dollars which meant increased pay for CEOs and stock buybacks, while working families were mostly left behind. The bailouts of the past, which gave unrestricted funds to major corporations, should be a thing of the past.
We need to use our unrestricted stimulus funds to protect critical programs, support our communities, and help families get back on their feet. These funds, secured through the hard work of our federal delegation, can provide security for thousands of Granite Staters, ease some of the costs they are facing, and help them get back to work. Folks in New Hampshire have lost their jobs, their health care, and still have stacks of bills to pay — we can’t leave them behind. Costs were already too high in New Hampshire before this crisis and the stresses on family budgets have only been exasperated. Right here in New Hampshire, we have the highest health care costs in the nation, among the highest property taxes in the country, the third-highest electric bills, crushing student debt, and a lack of affordable housing options. COVID-19 has already hurt the economic security of hundreds of thousands of Granite Staters and has only exacerbated the cost pressures crushing working families and family businesses in the first place. We should use the stimulus funds to address these three areas of concern:
Protecting Critical Services: First, we need to protect the critical services and the workers that are helping us fight this public health crisis right now. We should create a “Frontline Worker Fund” to provide direct financial assistance to frontline workers in this emergency — health care workers, firefighters and first responders, state and municipal employees, grocery store workers — folks sacrificing not just their time, but their health for all of us. The “Frontline Worker Fund” can also be used to attract, retain, and retrain additional workers in areas of high-need. We should ensure that the hospital fund is fully supported so we don’t lose any critical health care providers. It’s clear that state revenues are going to be below projections, which means without additional support, critical economic, public health, public safety, education, and other critical services could be cut. Last week, Governor Sununu cut funding for housing and homelessness services, he cut the funding to build the Secure Psychiatric Unit, and he cut the funding for the low-income prescription drug relief program for seniors, all in order to shift money to cover other COVID-19 related expenses. The stimulus funds can and should be used to stabilize the state budget and these critical services. We need to ensure we protect these critical state services and have all the resources we need to cover COVID-19 expenses.
Protecting Communities & Property Taxpayers: We must also provide direct assistance to our cities and towns to help them with additional COVID-19 related expenses. Our local municipalities are facing additional costs for public safety, public health, education, and so many other expenses as they adjusted to the new COVID-19 reality. I’ve proposed an immediate $100 million distribution to towns and cities on a per capita basis and then a set-aside to meet the property tax receipt gap later this year, fill the gap, and hold towns and cities harmless. Without assistance education budgets could be cut and critical local services may be scaled down or cut altogether. We can and should protect our communities and protect property taxpayers.
Get People Back on Their Feet: We need to do everything we can to get people back on their feet, but the planning process needs to begin now. This includes getting people back to work, ensuring no one gets evicted or foreclosed on or has critical services cut off because they were out of work, and helping family businesses open their doors. This includes making smart choices to advance the jobs of tomorrow including in clean energy. This must also include critical protections to ensure that any businesses getting help looks out for their workers, including bringing back all of their employees that need work. Additionally, we should take action for the small businesses that drive the New Hampshire economy by establishing a “Fast Start” grant program that allows previously established small businesses that closed because of COVID-19 to erase debt, rehire employees, and fund start-up costs. Regarding housing, the best policy to help landlords is to ensure their renters can pay their bills. We should expand programs that provide rental assistance to low and moderate-income tenants who have lost income due to the COVID-19 crisis. Stacks of bills are piling up on kitchen tables all across New Hampshire we need to ensure that everyday Granite Staters get the help they need.
We faced this challenge in 2009 during the Great Recession, and the response wasn’t perfect, with too many at the top benefiting and too many working people left behind. We must learn from the past and deliver better results for people. We must use the federal stimulus to protect critical services, help our communities, and help people get back on their feet, not bail out corporations or write blank checks to corporate special interests. The unrestricted stimulus fund cannot be the Sununu slush fund for corporate special interests, the well-connected, or the entitled elite who only bring back a fraction of their previous employees. We have experienced a crisis like this before, and we know that the lobbyists and corporate special interests will try to make it work for them. But, we need to make this work for working families and family businesses — the people who, all too often, don’t even ask for help, but need it most.
As a legal aid attorney, I worked with thousands who often didn’t have anyone in their corner as they were up against big Wall Street banks or fighting for the jobs and health care benefits they and their families deserved. I came to realize the laws weren’t written with working people in mind. That’s why I ran for the Senate six years ago. And that’s why I’m running for Governor now. We are here again and we can’t make the same mistakes. In order to move New Hampshire forward, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.