Monadnock Ledger-Transcript – Kuster, Fenton visit brewery for chili, beer and politics


United States Representative Annie Kuster stopped by the Post and Beam Brewery in Peterborough Wednesday as part of her campaign’s 30 Diners in 30 Days tour. She was joined by state senate hopeful Donovan Fenton. 

Kuster, a democrat who has served New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District since 2012, is running against Republican Bob Burns, a local businessman and the former treasurer of Hillsborough County. The tour kicked off at Main Street Station in downtown Plymouth Oct. 5. 

“What’s great is that we get to come in and talk to people and our only criteria is that it has to be a small independent business like this,” Kuster said, while enjoying Post & Beam’s chili and a beer. “We’ve known these folks because we came in before COVID when [Post and Beam] was under construction.”

Post & Beam Brewing— located in the Peterborough Academy building built in 1837—opened its doors to the public after renovations in July of 2018. Owner Erika Rosenfeld said without the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding during the pandemic she would not have been able to keep her staff.

“It was hard for a while,” Rosenfeld said. “But business has been going well.”

In June of 2020 Kuster cosponsored and voted in favor of the Paycheck Protection and Flexibility Act which modified the original PPP by extending the loan forgiveness period from 8 weeks to 24 weeks. 

Kuster, who spends about nine days a month in Washington D.C. away from her Hopkinton home, said she meets with state senate and house candidates while on the tour and that it gives her a chance to find out what’s on people’s minds. After stopping by Post and Beam she was scheduled to attend a house party at Sally and Sandy Eneguess’s home in Peterborough. 

Upon arriving at the brewery, Kuster said she had a conversation with one of the brewers who had recently relocated to Peterborough from Virginia about the difficulties of finding affordable housing.

“He was speaking about how hard housing is,” Kuster said. “For the folks who are Donovan’s age who we want to encourage to stay in New Hampshire and raise their families here, it’s hard. Housing is just impossible. We have a .5 percent vacancy rate, and a healthy rate would be 5 percent.”

Kuster said getting federal tax incentives for affordable housing and workforce housing, as well as childcare, are two of her biggest priorities.

“These are the two big issues keeping people out of the workforce,” Kuster said, explaining that during the pandemic the employment rate went as high as 16 percent. “Now it’s down to 2 percent but we still can’t find people to do jobs. And there are so many new jobs.”

Fenton, a former state representative who serves as vice president of Subaru of Keene, agreed with Kuster’s assessment, saying that unless the state can attract workers, the problem will continue. At his dealership he said he’s having a hard time finding people to wash cars part time despite offering $18 per hour. One reason for this, he says, is because many people have already found fulltime work at higher rates of pay.

“If we attract people to the state it’s not going to do anything unless we can provide childcare and housing,” Fenton said, adding that a childcare bill involving a tax break for businesses was shot down during his time in the House. “The argument against it was ‘just take care of your kids.’ And you’ll love this, we had a bill to include diaper changing stations in men’s bathrooms and the argument against that was ‘I changed my son on the floor, why can’t you?’” 

When it comes to childcare, Kuster said she visited a childcare center in Plymouth recently that serves as a good model for other centers.

“The childcare workers there will be employees of the health center and will have good wages and benefits,” she said, explaining that the health center was made possible through federal funding through the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Northern Borders Regional Commission (NBRC). “This was an interesting project because the community health center did a survey of what the community needed the most and it was childcare and housing.”

Working with the NBRC, Kuster said congress was able to increase the J-1 visa program for physicians which is happening in the Monadnock region.

“I want to expand this to all kinds of positions including radiology techs and nurses,” she said.

Kuster pointed out that 12 percent of women left the workforce during COVID and that only half have come back. And, she continued, “we didn’t have any immigration during the four years under Trump. We need to get back to legal immigration.” 

Fenton discussed his own situation of trying to find childcare and the difficulties he and his wife encountered with their first child.

“A full-time wage was less than the cost of childcare,” he said. “She was one of those women who didn’t come back to the workforce. She chose to stay home and take care of our kids.”

Fenton said he is thankful for Annie Kuster’s work in Congress and for the help she has brought to New Hampshire residents. 

“Donovan really represents a wing of the Democratic party that will allow us to broaden our appeal,” Kuster said, adding that she has been working with The New Democratic Coalition which makes up half of the caucus. “It’s a group that’s progressive on social issues and business oriented.”

One of the best stops on her tour so far, Kuster said, was a graduation at Nashua Community College for a 10-week program that teaches people how to work with micro electronics.

“These people were walking straight out of there into good jobs,” she said, explaining that their companies continue paying for their education. “The stories were unbelievable. Some people had been living in shelters or couch surfing and now they have fulltime jobs with benefits. It was fantastic.” 

Reflecting on the past several years and the difference between her and her opponent, Kuster said it’s a “miracle that we went from a total shutdown during a worldwide pandemic and coming in fast with the PPP that kept businesses like Post and Beam alive.”

“My opponent says he would have voted against all of this—the PPP, ARPA, The Inflation Reduction Bill. We wouldn’t even have an economy if we’d voted against all of that. And by the way, he himself took PPP and loan forgiveness. Fine for him, but not for everyone else.”

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