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How The Governor's Office For Emergency And Recovery Will Decide On Spending COVID-19 Funds

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The Governor's Office for Emergency and Recovery (or GOFERR) is charged with the investment and oversight of federal funding in response to COVID-19.

NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Jerry Little, who's taking a leave as New Hampshire's Banking Commissioner to lead the office.

Little spoke about how the body is getting input and will decide how to spend the funds.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

Rick Ganley: So far, New Hampshire's received $1.25 billion from the federal government to deal with the impact of the pandemic. The decisions about how to spend it could shape the state's economy for years to come. Can you explain more about what the role of this office is and what your specific role is?

Jerry Little: Sure, absolutely. Thank you for the question. Back on April 7, the governor announced the creation of the Governor's Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery with the acronym GOFERR. He created my role as director of the GOFERR Office. That executive order also created two advisory boards who are guiding the important work that the office is doing. One is the Legislative Advisory Committee. And then there's also a stakeholders advisory board, which has, I think at this point, 13 people on it who are leaders from a variety of industries well dispersed all across the state of New Hampshire.

Both of those boards are holding very frequent, we're calling them public meetings, but actually their public conference calls because we need to observe proper social distancing. And we're taking a lot of testimony from people telling us how they have been impacted by the coronavirus. And Rick, the stories are all difficult and sad, but they're important to listen to because we're getting a good sense of who's been impacted by the coronavirus and how badly they've been impacted. And it's going to govern our decisions about where we place this $1.25 billion in federal funding.

Rick Ganley: So there's a lot of voices, it sounds like at the table. You're listening to a lot of this this testimony. Obviously, I'm sure that, you know, the news is universally bad. How much independence do you and this office have in making these spending decisions ultimately? You know, I mean, the governor is calling the shots, is he not?

Jerry Little: Yes, the governor is calling the shots as far as where the money is actually going to go. But the advisory committees are directing us. And at some point in time, in the near future, we're going to need to pivot those committees from simply receiving data and input from people from across the state to thinking about where they would like to see the money go. We're going to ask that they identify the major sectors of the economy, and then to find some way to weight the need and decide what percentages of the funds should go into which of the segments of the industries are out there.

Rick Ganley: Of course, there may be some people who will get a little bit more than others, and I'm sure there'll be some people who will be happier than others.

Jerry Little: And that's unfortunate. But, Rick, $1.25 Billion sounds like a heck of a lot of money because it is. But we have had requests already that far outstrip that amount. We had requests from the hospitality industry recently for $1 billion of the $1.25 billion.

Rick Ganley: Just for the hospitality industry?

Jerry Little: Just for the hospitality industry. And we've had other very large asks like that. So the advisory boards are going to have some really tough decisions to make. You know, I think this is going to be one of those situations where a compromise means that nobody's entirely happy. Some people are going to get what they feel they need. Others are not going to get what they want. And so it's not an easy role that the advisory boards have. We're relying on them to help us steer through this.

Rick Ganley: Well, I want to  ask you, what have you been hearing from the public so far?

Jerry Little: We're getting a lot of comments from people think that the GOFERR money might be able to make them whole for all of the damage that they've suffered from the coronavirus, but that's not possible. And so, like I said, there are tough decisions that are going to have to be made. And hopefully we're satisfying most of the need to keep as many of New Hampshire's businesses and organizations, because the nonprofit world is another major sector that we're very concerned about, keeping those businesses and organizations at least open so that they can continue to perform their very important functions.

Rick Ganley: How do you expect the next few weeks to play out? When will some of this money start flowing?

Jerry Little: We're trying to get the money flowing in the month of May. Right now, we don't have an exact date. I can't tell you which week. We are setting up the systems that we need. We need a front end to back end financial accounting system to make sure that we're able to show everybody where every penny went. The governor has directed us to set up this system in a manner that integrates very well with a website that we're creating. And on that website there will be a dashboard where people can see where the money was spent, how it was used, what sectors of the economy received money and the distribution from the GOFERR account.

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