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NH Gov. Sununu knocks Biden-era aid package in swing through Upper Valley

  • New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu talks with campers during a visit to Camp Merriwood, a girls summer camp in Orford, N.H., during a tour of businesses around the state on Wednesday, August 11, 2021. Camp Director Susan Miller Hild, left, vice president of the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association, gave the governor a tour of the camp. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • A member of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu's staff photographs him with Camp Merriwood Director Susan Miller Hild, left, during a visit to the girls summer camp in Orford, N.H., on Wednesday, August 11, 2021. Miller Hild said the camp received CARES Act funding to help with the cost of testing each of the 135 campers for COVID-19 72 hours before arriving, again upon arrival, and a third time five days into their stay. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2021 9:30:33 PM
Modified: 8/11/2021 9:42:58 PM

LEBANON — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu criticized the Biden administration’s attempts to revive the economy during a stop in Lebanon on Wednesday, saying recent relief efforts passed by Congress tie the hands of governors looking for creative solutions to their states’ problems.

“This administration is a Washington-first administration that doesn’t seem to understand that states need flexibilities,” Sununu, a Republican in his third term, said following a tour of the River Valley Club.

At the same time, the governor praised the $2.2 trillion CARES Act signed into law by former President Donald Trump last year.

That law, he said, allowed states to set up funds to respond to immediate needs, such as offering aid to struggling businesses and reopen child care centers.

“It’s not just the dollars that came in. It was the ability to use it how we needed to use it,” he said. “And again, it wasn’t about just pumping it into more government. It was allowing it to really hit Main Street and real people to make sure that they could take the best advantage of it.”

The River Valley Club was among 118 Lebanon-based businesses that received more than $9.6 million in aid from the state’s share of CARES Act funding.

The club itself received $350,000 from one fund that sought to help small businesses, while another $324,000 was directed at its child care center FitKids.

“We wouldn’t have made it without it,” club owner Elizabeth Asch said about the aid.

Asch said the state funds came through last summer after the club had been closed for four months and its staff was furloughed. A lot of it went to payroll, she said, and the still-ongoing reopening efforts.

Sununu contrasted that money with the American Rescue Plan, which was signed by Joe Biden and is expected to bring at least $1.5 billion to New Hampshire. It also awarded citizens with $1,400 checks earlier this year.

“They’re trying to do a top-down, centralized control of everything,” he said. “That is never, ever the best way.”

For instance, he said, money included in the law for rent relief has to go toward paying off outstanding rent payments, said Sununu, whose request to use the money to build affordable housing was denied.

“They say, ‘We want rental relief.’ Well, rental relief isn’t our problem right now,” he said. “We have some people taking it up and we’re getting rental relief money out faster than most other states, but I’ve still got $160 million untapped and unused that I could be building units all over this state with that the federal government won’t let me.”

As of late last month, New Hampshire has received more than 7,800 applications for emergency rental assistance with about 4,600 approved. Overall, it has provided roughly $29.8 million to renters so far.

Sununu also declined to say whether he supports the Senate’s recently passed infrastructure deal championed by his political opponents, U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, both Democrats.

“It’s a 2,700-page bill. I haven’t read that bill,” the governor said, adding that he considered it a “good sign” that Republicans signed onto the measure.

The governor’s visit to the Upper Valley was part of what he’s dubbed a “Super 603 Day,” where Sununu travels portions of the Granite State to meet with businesses and showcase the tourism industry.

Wednesday’s travels, which were devoted to destinations in Grafton County, included stops at Hatchland Farm’s dairy stand in North Haverhill, lunch at VinDogs Food Truck in Haverhill and a tour of Camp Merriwood in Orford.

The trip also comes as pundits ramp up speculation about Sununu’s political future. Political experts say the popular three-term governor would pose a strong challenger to Hassan, who is up for reelection in 2022.

And in recent months, former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both have said they’d like to see Sununu run.

“I’ve got a full plate, brother,” Sununu said when asked about his plans on Wednesday. “I really do, so the last thing I’m thinking about is politics.”

A poll a University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll released last month shows Hassan and Sununu would be a dead heat in a potential 2022 matchup. The poll found that Sununu has 49% support of likely voters, while Hassan has 48%. Three percent of those questioned said they were undecided or would support someone else.

Hassan’s campaign declined to comment on the governor’s visit and remarks Wednesday. However, local Democrats challenged the governor’s opposition to the Biden-era relief efforts.

State Sen. Sue Prentiss, D-Lebanon, said if it were up to Sununu, “New Hampshire wouldn’t have received millions of dollars in COVID relief to bolster our vaccination efforts, help get students back in school and support small businesses reopen and rehire.”

But regardless of his feelings about Congress’ efforts, Sununu said it intends to use both relief and infrastructure funds and invest in long-term needs.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.


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