Subcommittee Meeting on January 27, 2021

The Appropriations Subcommittee meeting was called to order at 3pm on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. The purpose of this subcommittee is to discuss strategies for the dispersal of monies from the recent stimulus package passed by Congress. The meeting was attended by the following: Kurt Ponchak, Debbie Hietala, David Stevens, Rafaella Diershaw, Bernie Kaiserian, Jim Warth, Alan Risk, John Ahler and Bill Findley. Janet Chernoff attended to take notes and prepare the minutes. The meeting was held in compliance with the Sunshine Law and was open to all interested parties. Only the attendees listed above were allowed to speak.

Kurt Ponchak opened the meeting at 3pm. Janet Chernoff called the roll. The minutes of the previous meeting and the agenda was approved without objection. Kurt told the group that the meeting would focus on eligibility. Kurt also advised the group that all data on the monthly business report (MBR) including information on vendor income is public record. Debbie Hietala questioned how vendor income would be determined. Kurt told the group that for the purpose of their discussions vendor income would be net profit as reported on the MBR. Kurt told the group that the purpose of the subcommittee is to create and recommend a plan on how the funds should be distributed. There was a discussion of net profit and expenses that can be claimed on an individual vendor’s income tax. Kurt recommended that the group keep this as simple as possible and only use data reported on the MBR.

Kurt told the group that they needed to determine who is eligible to receive the funds. Per the language in the bill a vendor needs to have a loss to be eligible. The group also needs to decide how to evaluate vendors with multiple facilities. The group discussed the fact that the language in the bill said losses in 2020. The group reconfirmed that previously they had determined that they would be looking at data for March – December 2020 and would not include figures from January and February as those months were not impacted by the pandemic. Once the MBRs for December 2020 are submitted all subcommittee members will receive data on the vendors comparing March – December 2020 with the same period in 2019. It was recommended that the data be listed by licensure number rather than name in order to prevent any bias on the part of subcommittee members.

The panel then discussed what would be considered compensation and Kurt recommended that they use the language in the bill as a guide. The applicable language is as follows: “Provided further, That the State licensing agency shall use these grants to make financial relief and restoration payments to offset losses of blind vendors that occurred during calendar year 2020, but only to the extent that such losses are not otherwise compensated: Provided further, That any funds in excess of the amount needed for financial relief and restoration payments to blind vendors shall be used by the State licensing agency for other purposes authorized by section 395.9 of title 34, Code of Federal Regulations, as in effect on the date of enactment of this Act, and determined through active participation with the State committee of blind vendors as required.”

Kurt recommended that they make every attempt to put this money in the hands of the vendors to offset their losses. Rafaella asked for clarification on how losses would be evaluated and whether they would be looking a vendors or their corporations. Kurt told the group that they should be looking at individuals rather at than at businesses. The group needs to define compensation as outlined in the law as well what is considered a loss. Bernie told the group that the monies can either be divided evenly between eligible vendors or on a proportioned basis. Members suggested splitting the money evenly with no vendor receiving more that their loss or looking at a sliding scale. David Stevens suggested that the monies received by the program should be shared in proportion to the loss. For example it the money comes to 50% of the total loss experienced by the vendors, then each vendor could receive 50% of their loss.

Bernie suggested a sliding scale based on the vendor loss. Ultimately the group decided they needed more data and would investigate a couple of systems before making a decision. When making a recommendation to the Committee on the distribution the subcommittee will need to provide information on the different plans for allotting the money.

The group then discussed whether a vendor who entered a facility in 2020 would be eligible for compensation. It’s Kurt’s opinion that those vendors would be ineligible because there would be no data from 2019 to determine their loss. It was suggested that data from the facility could be used for comparison. Kurt feels that the law mandates that monies be used to offset losses and a vendor who did not operate a facility in 2019 cannot be determined to have a loss. Bill Findley expressed the opinion that it would be appropriate to use data from a previous operator to determine loss. A vendor entering a facility has the expectation of an income in line with the previous operator and the pandemic has impacted an operator’s ability to achieve that income. The program has only had new four vendors that have entered facilities in 2020.

The group discussed what would be considered compensation and they agreed that the stimulus monies given to everyone would not count. Bill Findley does not think that PPP loans count as compensation but is asking for more direction from RSA. The group felt that money from grants and unemployment count as compensation and that the program will need to rely on vendor self-reporting. Debbie Hietala will prepare a draft of an application for the vendors designed to collect data on compensation and will present it at the next meeting. Rafaella Diershaw made a motion that the subcommittee should make it an objective to give 100% of the money to the vendors. Seconded by Bernie Kaiserian. Passed without objection.

The next meeting will be scheduled for Wednesday, February 3 at 3pm Eastern and the group will continue to focus on eligibility. Bernie Kaiserian will provide a draft of suggested requirements for eligibility. The group agreed that a vendor must have a loss to be eligible and reconfirmed that they would be looking a data for March – December 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019. A follow up meeting is planned for 3pm on Monday, February 8, 2021. Kurt will work on a format for allowing vendors to submit comments and questions. Ultimately a public meeting will be planned. Bill Findley invited subcommittee members to attend a NCSAB webinar on Monday, February 1 with Catriona MacDonald and/or submit questions for same.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:15pm.


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