Chambers of Commerce on the Seacoast are calling on state and congressional leaders to consider assistance to help them as they face significant financial challenges with lost membership revenue and event cancellations.
Chamber officials say they’ve been left out of federal funding programs through the CARES Act despite being on the front lines trying to help the more than 2,500 businesses they represent as they struggle to keep their doors open.
While other nonprofits are able to get funding assistance, chambers are registered with the Internal Revenue Service as 501©(6) groups and aren’t eligible, officials said.
The chambers have lost critical sources of income as revenue from memberships and scrapped events has fallen.
The Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce, Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Dover Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, The Falls Chamber of Commerce in Somersworth, and the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth issued a plea this week asking supporters to contact the Governor’s Office for Economic Relief and Recovery and request that funding from the CARES Act be allocated to help chambers around the state.
“I am grateful for the thoughtful deliberation and creation of relief programs that are available to local businesses and other nonprofit organizations. Access to these programs for Chambers of Commerce will be critical for us to continue our mission supporting business and building community,” said Jennifer Wheeler, president of the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce.
Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce President Margaret Joyce said that without access to COVID-19 disaster loans and grant funding from the federal and state governments, chambers will be unable to aid the businesses they serve as the economy begins to reopen.
“Most Chambers of Commerce are nonprofit organizations, and yet we are not eligible for any of the relief funds. It is our hope that the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery recognizes the important contributions that chambers make to local economies throughout the state and allows us to access the Nonprofit Emergency Relief and Recovery Fund Program,” Joyce said.
In addition to the push for funding, the chambers are also encouraging businesses and organizations to join their local chamber and sponsor or donate to help them.
Laura Ring, president of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, said chambers provide valuable services to member businesses and the communities in their service area.She said they’ve been helping them through the crisis with information and resources.
“Chambers of Commerce are also the information/visitor centers for their communities and are relied upon to serve visitors, as well as assist their communities and state in attracting businesses. Chambers rely on membership and fundraisers for their financial survival. With businesses struggling for survival combined with the cancellation of several activities that are unable to be conducted due to COVID-19, approximately two-thirds of our annual budget will not be realized,” Ring said.
Allison St. Laurent, executive director of The Falls Chamber of Commerce in Somersworth, said that since the pandemic began, the chamber has worked to help its members access and navigate the federal relief programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program. However, she said the chamber can’t benefit from those same programs.
“With the loss of event revenues, sponsorship funds, and membership dues, local chambers are in need of support now more than ever,” she said.