March 20, 2013CONCORD — Writing special legislation to authorize a one-time $1 million long-term loan from the Electric Assistance Program (EAP) to help Tri-County Community Action Program (TCCAP) is under discussion as a potential way to solve the agency's oft-reported cash-flow problems.
Meredith Hatfield, who was appointed Director of the Governor's Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) in mid-January, met for an hour at mid-day on Wednesday, March 6, with all 10 members of the Coös County delegation of state representatives in Concord.
Rep. Larry Rappaport, who serves on the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee, invited Hatfield.
Hatfield explained to the legislators that TCCAP's court-appointed special trustee Todd Fahey of Orr & Reno would like to secure a $1 million loan to assist with funding such programs as Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP), a.k.a. fuel assistance, Home Weatherization and other programs.
The EAP, managed by the state Public Utilities Commission (NHPUC), has a substantial balance that is large enough to allow the borrowed monies to be repaid over 20 years.
Fahey has reported to Judge David King in the probate court in Lancaster that he has identified the need for a $500,00 to $1 million line of credit to help fund ongoing operations, as well as the need to rebuild cash reserves and reduce debt. He has specifically identified funds owed to particular sources, including approximately $530,000 to LIHEAP (fuel assistance), some $220,000 to the Guardianship program, and a $350,000 payment due to TD Bank against a line of credit.
OEP's responsibilities include offering community services such as heating fuel aid and promoting energy efficiency and reducing energy costs by supporting programs, such as weatherization, for low-income households. In the last program year TCCAP served over 7,400 households through with federal fuel assistance dollars. OEP also provides federal funds to the agency for low- income home weatherization, and likely about 40 will be weatherized by April. Weatherization funds are leveraged with other funding sources, including ratepayer-funded programs administered by the utilities, so that TCCAP weatherizes more homes than federal funds support.
Because of its role serving as a pass-through for federal funds, OEP has worked with special trustee Fahey, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and other funding agencies to support efforts to maintain services in all three counties, Hatfield explained in an e-mail exchange.
Fahey said in a Monday morning phone call that he has not yet thoroughly looked into this avenue as a source of funds.
He did say, however, that he thought that needed services were being provided by TCCAP.
At the March 6 meeting, delegation chairman Rep. Robert Theberge of Berlin told Hatfield that the House would not be able to introduce legislation without amending a number of rules since several deadlines have already been passed. Getting support from the full House would also be difficult, he noted, suggesting that a Senate bill would be easier to pass.
Hatfield said that she had already spoken with the four state Senators whose districts encompass the three affected counties: Coös, Carroll, and Grafton.
If legislators do decide to introduce a bill, its dollar amount and length would, of course, be up to legislators, Hatfield pointed out in a later e-mail exchange, noting that she hopes that these kinds of ideas can be discussed with both legislators and special trustee Fahey.
"While OEP is committed to maintaining services and helping turn around Tri-County CAP, we agree that any assistance must be provided in a way that ensures that the funds will be used for their intended purpose, and with appropriate oversight by the legislature and the probate court," Hatfield wrote in an e-mail exchange. "We also look forward to the findings and recommendations from the investigations under way to ensure that public funds – and the public trust – are restored."
During the March 6 meeting, Hatfield noted that the Governor's Office could help draft the legislation. Twice before, she recalled, the House has come up with similar legislation: in 2005 for a request to borrow funds for the fuel assistance program, that turned out not to unnecessary because federal dollars were appropriated before the special legislation passed; and in 2010 for home weatherization.
Coös legislators raised concerns on March 6. Rep. Leon Rideout of Lancaster said he would be concerned about taking money from the electric ratepayers who fund EAP. Rep. Yvonne Thomas of Berlin said that the funds should be repaid over time, articulating a sentiment that was shared by the whole delegation. Hatfield responded by saying a 20-year loan period would allow this to happen. Rappaport pointed out that there is a current push to eliminate the state's Systems Benefit Charge that funds EAP. Rep. Both Bill Hatch of Gorham, who headed up TCCAP's board of directors before the Probate Court vacated its powers, and Rep. Wayne Moynihan of Dummer, who until recently represented TCCAP, were on hand, but neither are recorded as making any comment.