Coronavirus

Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday announced a $400 million relief fund for small businesses in New Hampshire, as the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Sununu also announced more funding to support health care facilities, child care providers, nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions and farmers.

The allocations, totaling $595 million, come out of the $1.25 billion that New Hampshire has received from the federal government under the CARES Act.

Sununu noted that a separate federal program for small businesses — the Paycheck Protection Program — has already pumped more than $2 billion into the state. But there’s still a great need out there, and not all small businesses could take advantage of the PPP, Sununu said.

The Payment Protection Program offers loans that are forgivable, but only if the company keeps all its workers and spends at least 75 percent of the money on payroll. Those restrictions have dissuaded some businesses from applying. The first-come, first-served rollout of the program also meant that some were unable to get their applications in before the first round of funding dried up. (The Sentinel is among the businesses that received a PPP loan.)

By contrast, the state relief fund will distribute money to every business that qualifies. It will provide grants — not loans — that companies can spend on whatever they decide is most urgent.

“We know that the $400 million isn’t necessarily going to cover all the bases,” Sununu said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “But what we are trying to do is make sure that — in a fair, open and very equitable way — businesses really have the opportunity to do the basic things: pay their bills, pay their mortgages, pay their property taxes, things of that nature.”

That way, even if a business cannot reopen right away, “it’s not driving them into a bankruptcy position; it’s not driving them to fully close their business,” Sununu said.

Any business that wants relief funding must submit a prequalification application by May 29. Based on that information, the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery will set the final eligibility criteria and a formula to distribute money to all businesses that qualify, Sununu said.

The program is open only to enterprises that had less than $20 million in revenue in the 2019 tax year and will target those facing substantial losses. Businesses can find the application at goferr.nh.gov.

Sununu also announced that a previously established emergency relief fund to prevent health care facilities from failing will receive an additional $50 million, doubling its size. Of that, $30 million is set aside for long-term care facilities like nursing homes, which have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus in New Hampshire and elsewhere.

In addition, $60 million is being allocated to nonprofit organizations; $25 million to child care providers; $15 million to public colleges and universities; and $15 million to farmers and the N.H. Food Bank.

The funding announced Friday is on top of $250 million of CARES Act money that Sununu’s office had already allocated to help municipal governments, boost pay for first responders and front-line health care workers and support victims of domestic violence, among other purposes. That total also includes the first $50 million infusion into the health care relief fund.

About $400 million remains to be allocated. Sununu said that reserve could be used to boost any of the programs he announced Friday or to address other needs that arise.

On Monday, the relief and recovery office’s legislative advisory board — a bipartisan group of state lawmakers — had issued recommendations on how to allocate New Hampshire’s $1.25 billion share from the CARES Act.

Sununu generally followed the board’s advice in terms of which sectors to support, though often in different amounts.

In making the final decisions, he said he considered what other streams of federal funding are available to particular sectors. For instance, the board advocated immediately distributing $160 million in grants to health care facilities.

Sununu ultimately allocated $50 million in that area, in part because New Hampshire’s health care facilities have already received hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government through separate programs and are likely to get more, he said Friday.

In other areas, Sununu upped the funding, saying he preferred to get more money out the door now, when the need is high. His $400 million for small businesses is four times what the board suggested, and he doubled their recommended $30 million for nonprofit organizations.

The advisory board’s plan would have kept $650 million in reserve to disburse later this year, compared to the roughly $400 million Sununu decided on.

“We looked at maybe separating it out — 100 million this month, 100 million down there and 100 million a few months down the road,” he said. “But boy, the need is really now. What we don’t want to do is create a situation where we’re holding onto dollars that could have been spent to help some of these small businesses … but the businesses go out of business in July or May, or June.”

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS.