CONCORD — Roughly $200 million more in federal grants to deal with COVID-19 will lead to an unemployment tax cut for businesses, a second round of relief for small businesses and per-pupil grants for all public schools, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Thursday.

All public schools will receive $35 million or $200-per-student from the CARES Act to help pay for items such as personal protective equipment, testing and other supplies, Sununu said.

As the Union Leader first reported, new Trump administration rules allow all states to give up to $500-per-student grants to school districts and that money can be spent through the end of 2021.

Sununu said local school boards can also apply for $10 million from an “emergency fund,” meant to cover costs that have been greater than other districts. Those dollars must be spent by Dec. 31.

“We have always said funds aren’t going to get in the way of a quality education for our kids,” Sununu said.

The Legislative Advisory Board that Sununu created to advise him meets on this topic Friday afternoon.

Sununu said he didn’t rule out earmarking more CARES Act money for schools if there proves to be additional need.

$50 million for jobless fund

Meanwhile, Sununu took executive action Thursday that prevents all New Hampshire businesses from having to pay higher unemployment taxes on Jan. 1.

Sununu decided $50 million in these federal grants would be deposited into the Unemployment Trust Fund to build up its surplus, depleted by the sharp rise in unemployment due to COVID-19.

Prior to the pandemic, the state had a $300 million surplus; it dropped to less than half that prior to this decision.

This deposit will create enough surplus in that fund to lower unemployment taxes in 2021.

That’s because the surplus had already dropped low enough during the summer to trigger higher tax payments.

“This will trigger a tax break of about $65 million for businesses through 2021,” Sununu said.

The largest, single use of federal CARES Act dollars in New Hampshire was the Main Street Fund that provided $340 million in grants to help 5,000 companies with annual revenues of up to $20 million.

Sununu claimed it was the largest such business grant program of its kind in the country.

On Thursday, Sununu announced a “2.0” version of this program that will provide $100 million in additional grants for businesses.

The applications are open to firms whether they received an earlier grant or not, he said.

Businesses can apply for this next round of grants starting next Monday through Oct. 30.

Sununu said these moves leave the state with about $100 million left in what started as a $1.2 billion block grant New Hampshire received last spring.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020