The Bulletin Board

Supporters of bill to help small businesses puzzled by House committee recommendation

By: - June 2, 2021 2:06 pm
A window reading Clark's American Bistro, with the reflection of a young girl and trees

Kimberly Clark and her husband own Clark’s American Bistro and Ciao Trattoria and Wine Bar, both in Durham. They began planning their businesses two years before the pandemic and were scheduled to open in March 2020, just as the state shut all non-essential businesses. (Courtesy)

Nearly 7,600 of the state’s small businesses received a lifeline when federal “Main Street” pandemic aid arrived last year – but only if they had opened at least nine months before COVID-19 hit. After hearing from some of those excluded business owners earlier this year, the New Hampshire Senate voted, 23-1, in favor of legislation that removes that time limit for future aid.

When the full House considers the bill Thursday, the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee will recommend it be voted inexpedient to legislate. Those backing the bill not only oppose that recommendation, they don’t understand it. 

“Any money that does come subsequently, I want to be sure there is no restriction,” said Rep. Christy Bartlett, a Concord Democrat who serves on the committee. “Why shut off the possibility?”

Kimberly Clark, who with her husband owns Clark’s American Bistro and Ciao Trattoria and Wine Bar, both in Durham, testified at the Senate’s public hearing last February. They began planning their businesses two years before the pandemic and were scheduled to open in March 2020, just as the state shut all non-essential businesses.

“There seems to be a misrepresentation that everything is now fine,” Clark said in an interview Wednesday. “But we had a year of not being fine, and there is a lot of catching up that has to be done. Bills are piling up, and banks and creditors are not being understanding.”

When the state opened applications for millions of aid through the Main Street Relief Fund in 2020, only businesses that had opened on or before May 26, 2019, were eligible, nearly nine months before the pandemic hit. Senate Bill 107 would lift any deadlines should future aid be available. It does not require newer businesses to be awarded money or be prioritized for awards. 

In its report recommending the bill be voted inexpedient to legislate, the majority said the legislation was irrelevant because the Main Street fund has closed and all businesses can apply for future aid, “assuming they comply with the new federal rules.” Neither the author of the report nor the committee’s chairman could be reached for comment.

The bill’s supporters say there is no guarantee that rules for future aid won’t carry the similar restrictions. The recent Restaurant Revitalization Act, for example, required applicants to show a revenue loss from 2019 to 2020. That eliminates restaurants that opened in 2020, even if they are still struggling 

Clark said she can open only five days a week, not seven, because she can’t hire help. One woman who wanted to take a job couldn’t because her child’s day care was not back to full capacity and had no spots. It’s a similar story for summer camps, she said. 

“We heard (the bill) wasn’t getting support, and again, we just don’t understand why,” Clark said. Small businesses are the heart-blood of any state. To turn your back on small businesses is shortsighted.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

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