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AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 3-17-17: School Vouchers And Kindergarten Bills

March 27, 2017

 

After concluding business in a rush back on March 10, the NH House reconvened this past Thursday for a short session. The most notable action of the day concerned HB 647, the so-called voucher bill for children with disabilities. The bill had previously passed the House on policy grounds, but on Thursday, came to the floor with a strong, bi-partisan recommendation of “Inexpedient to Legislate” from the Finance Committee. Nevertheless, in what looks to have been a party-line vote (it was not a roll-call but a division vote, meaning only the totals are recorded, not individual votes) the bill was tabled rather than killed. The motion to table came from Republican leader Dick Hinch, who asked the House to table on grounds that voting to kill the bill would prejudice the fate of SB 193, the broader, full-scale education voucher bill. With a vote of 193-161 (closely resembling party numbers in the House) HB 647 was tabled. The bill itself is essentially dead for 2017 but can be revived in 2018, and may also make an appearance in the 2018-19 budget bill still under construction by the House Finance Committee.

School Voucher Bill   As for SB 193, the broad-based education voucher bill, it has been referred to the House Education Committee but no public hearings have as yet been scheduled. As we have stated before, SB 193 is a very dangerous piece of legislation and could have dire consequences for public education in New Hampshire, reducing funding and ultimately raising property taxes in towns and cities across New Hampshire. A fine piece by Mark Fernald, recently published in the Keene Sentinel and Nashua Telegraph, quite clearly makes the case for SB193 as legislation that will increase property taxes AND harm public education. According to Fernald, the immediate impact of SB 193 will be to drain $25 million in funds from public schools, and the eventual costs will range much higher. Nearly all the benefits of the bill will go to families in upper-income brackets, since the amount per student per voucher is merely a fraction of the cost of sending a student to private or charter schools. In other words, the only “choice” to be offered is for those who can already afford it, while the cost will be borne by the rest of us in higher property taxes to support our public schools. (The full piece by Mark Fernald can be accessed at Vouchers for the Wealthy). This is not a good or sensible approach to public education, and the costs must be made clear when the bill comes before the House Education Committee. In the meantime, we must also remain vigilant that this proposal is not dropped into the upcoming budget bill coming from House Finance Committee (a often-utilized method of hiding unpopular or controversial proposals). 

Action Needed   We are requesting that you reach out to your state representative(s) and ask them to vote no on SB 193. Here’s the link, Protect NH Public Schools, so you can take direct action and have your opinion heard. Please share far and wide! For more resources to help defeat vouchers, please visit our website at Defeat School Vouchers

Kindergarten   Speaking of the House Finance Committee and the upcoming budget bill, the Republican majority on the committee voted this past week to remove funding for full-day kindergarten. This was an initiative proposed by Governor Sununu, but it was made clear that in the eyes of House Republicans the governor knows very little regarding education. House Speaker Shawn Jasper, when questioned about the Finance Committee vote, replied that “The capacity of a 6-year-old to be attentive in a classroom for a full day is pretty much non-existent,” hence his opposition to State-funding towards full-day kindergarten. And so, New Hampshire remains adamant in its stance against full-day kindergarten, unless localities or individual parents & families wish to pay for it (as has been proposed by some in places such as Nashua).

The focus this week in the State House will be on the final construction of the House budget bills, which must be reported by March 30. What must be remembered is that the budget bill for 2018-19 can contain or include all sorts of policy initiatives, so long as they have a fiscal impact. Therefore, proposals such as HB 647, tabled by a House vote, are not yet dead, but may surreptiously re-appear in the House budget bill. So stay tuned.

In Memoriam   On a final sad note, we mourn the untimely passing of Senator Scott McGilvray. Only 51 years of age, Senator McGilvray had just been elected to the NH Senate in November 2016 after serving for many years as president of NEA-NH, and his passing is a major blow to Democrats in the NH Senate and to the labor movement in NH. Upon learning of the tragic news, I released the following statement on behalf of AFT-NH:

“AFT-NH is shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of State Senator Scott McGilvray. On behalf of AFT-NH members, we express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of Scott McGilvray, and to our colleagues at NEA-NH.” 

“Scott dedicated his life to advocating for New Hampshire’s children, public education, educators and working families. He was a strong labor leader and his career was marked by public service at its finest culminating with his election to the NH State Senate this past fall.” 

“The passing of Senator McGilvray is a great loss to public education, the labor movement and the entire state of New Hampshire.  He was taken from us far too soon, and leaves a void that will be difficult to fill.” 

I wish you all good health as Spring slowly makes its way to NH, and let’s keep up the good fight!

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

NH Democrats File Ethics Complaint Over Governor’s Tweet Promoting Sununu Family Owned Ski Resort

NHDP files Executive Branch Ethics Committee Complaint against Governor Sununu

Concord, N.H. – Yesterday, The New Hampshire Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Executive Branch Ethics Committee concerning Governor Sununu’s use of his official Twitter account to promote his family business.

In a Tweet from the Governor’s official account, as opposed to his personal one, Sununu mentioned and promoted Waterville Valley. This free advertising from the platform of the governor is a privilege not given to any other ski resort, and could have led to increased revenue for the business. 

The Executive Branch ethics code mandates that “no executive branch official…use his or her position within the state to secure privileges or advantages for himself…or advantages for others.” Since taking office, Governor Sununu has filed a Financial Interest form, indicating financial interest in Waterville Valley that is relevant to his position as governor. Sununu’s family is also reported to have a stake in the company, maintaining positions on the Board of Directors, with a spokeswoman refusing to reveal which family members serve on the board. 

“Using an official platform to promote a family business is precisely what the ethics code attempts to prevent.” said NHDP Chair Ray Buckley. “Whether it’s Governor Sununu promoting Waterville Valley, Donald Trump defending his daughter’s products against Nordstrom, or Kellyanne Conway hawking Ivanka Trump’s wares from the White House press room, promotion of a business from a position of power is a serious abuse.” 

Buckey continued, “Governor Sununu has been coy about his business dealings in the past. Giving his family business free advertising isn’t exactly the way to dispel concerns about his conflicts of interest. This violation would be a good opportunity for Governor Sununu and Waterville Valley to disclose more information about the company’s funding and remaining Sununu connections.”

Groups To March On NH State House Opposing Legislation To Take Away Voting Rights

Granny D founded group Coalition for Open Democracy, NH Rebellion, Others to Host 1.2 mile March through Downtown from Concord High School to Steps of NH State House in Support of Voting Rights, Democracy

CONCORD, NH – The New Hampshire March for Voting Rights will be held on Saturday, April 1st at 1:00 pm and include a 1.2 mile march starting at Concord High School and ending with a rally on the steps of the New Hampshire State House in support of a strong and fair election system. 

The New Hampshire Senate and House are currently considering dozens of bills that would undercut our popular same day voter registration system and adversely affect thousands of eligible voters including students, low-income people, and veterans. The NH March for Voting Rights sends a bold message to elected officials in New Hampshire that we will stand together to protect our voting rights in the face of legislative attacks which threaten to discourage voter participation and weaken voting rights, particularly bills such as SB 3 and HB 372.

Hundreds of concerned citizens will join together to voice opposition and instead call for reforms that modernize and streamline New Hampshire’s election system. The speaking program will feature elected leaders, students, veterans and affected voters. Speed activist workshops will follow the rally and provide multiple direct actions for impact on voting rights.

WHAT:     NH March for Voting Rights & Rally

WHEN:     Saturday April 1st from 1pm – 3pm following “Crossover Day” at the State House

WHERE:     Concord High School, 170 Warren St, Concord, NH 03301 march starts at 1:00 pm

NH State House, 107 N Main St, Concord, NH 03303 rally starts at 2:00 pm

Various Locations – TBA, Concord, NH 03303 activist trainings start at 3:00 pm

WHO:     Hosted by NH Rebellion/Open Democracy with co-sponsors American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-NH); America Votes – New Hampshire; American Friends Service Committee-NH; Liberty Lobby LLC; Granite State Progress; League of Women Voters-NH; NH Peace Action; Veterans For Peace NH; NH for Humanity; League of Conservation Voters; NH Independent Voters; NH Citizen’s Alliance; America 2.0; The Resistance Seacoast, The Green Alliance, and WNHN

Senator Hassan Joins Colleagues, Advocates for Disability Community in Speaking Out Against Trumpcare

Senator Highlights Devastating Impact Cuts to Medicaid Would Have on Critical Services for Granite Staters Who Experience Disabilities

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), former Senator Tom Harkin, members of the disability community, and advocates for a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol highlighting the devastating impact Trumpcare would have on Granite Staters and Americans who experience disabilities.

“Trumpcare hurts people who experience disabilities with drastic cuts to the traditional Medicaid program,” Senator Hassan said to advocates outside the Capitol. “This plan changes Medicaid into per capita caps or a block grant system – and that is just code for a massive cut to the federal support states receive…[If Trumpcare passes], states will be faced with cutting services that people with disabilities depend on, such as personal care, prescription drugs, and rehabilitation services.”

“We can’t afford to go back to the days where we marginalize or don’t assist some of our most vulnerable people, so I’ll will stand strong with the people of New Hampshire, and my colleagues in fighting against this dangerous bill that would pull us backward,” Senator Hassan added.

Senator Hassan emphasized the importance of building a stronger, more inclusive society where all citizens can be engaged and active in our economic and civic life. The Senator also urged attendees to continue speaking out against Trumpcare, underscoring the importance of advocacy efforts in impacting real change on a local and federal level.

Watch video of the press conference here.

New SB 3 Amendment Could Sent Vigilantes To Verify Residency

Amended Version of SB 3 Much Worse Than Original Bill, Still Sends Police to Voter Doors and Now Authorizes Vigilantes Too

In a rushed amendment vote, Senate Republicans try to replace section of bill that caused largest public outcry but instead leave same result and 10x worse 

Concord, NH – The NH Senate Election Law committee amended SB 3 on Tuesday to remove sending police to voter doors by name, but the amended version uses covert language to still actually allow the supervisor of the checklist to send police to your door – and now goes even further by allowing them to deputize the local town conspiracy theorist or vigilante group to do it as well.

There’s a section in the amended SB 3, as passed by Senate Republicans on the Election Law Committee yesterday, that states “agents” can be sent to voter doors to verify that they live there. There is no limit on who can be designated an agent for this purpose, nor are there any provisions for proper training or how to conduct these checks; an open carry activist or an individual ideologically opposed to college students voting could be among those deputized.

In the latest version of SB 3 the following was removed: “Requesting local law enforcement during their routine patrols to visit the address and verify that the individual was domiciled there on election day” and the bill language modified from “Requesting 2 or more supervisors or other municipal officials to visit the address and verify that the individual was domiciled there on election day” to “Requesting 2 or more supervisors or municipal, county, or state election officers or their agents to visit the address and verify that the individual was domiciled  there on election day.” (SB 3 Amendment #2017-0978s, Senate Election Law Executive Session on Tuesday, March 21, 2017)

Statement from Granite State Progress Executive Director Zandra Rice Hawkins:

“SB 3 has been poorly written from the start but this latest amendment makes it ten times worse. Senate Republicans attempted to quiet public outcry over the provision of sending police officers to voter doors but in doing so they passed an amendment that actually allows that and more. Under the amended version, checklist supervisors can still send law enforcement or they can deputize others to conduct the checks, which could include deputizing voter suppression activists or even vigilante groups. In fact, there are now no limits whatsoever on whom they could send. It is shameful that Senate Republicans took credit during committee for removing the police officer provision by name while simultaneously opening the back door for the same activity and worse. SB 3 is nothing more than an attack on voting rights. It creates a poll tax by requiring financial transactions for many of the verifiable acts listed, and it penalizes voters $5,000 for being a day late with paperwork even if they did nothing wrong when registering to vote. In the hours-long public hearing, testimony highlighted that the bill will disproportionately impact eligible voters including students, low-income people, homeless veterans, and domestic violence survivors. New Hampshire politicians have many more pressing issues to deal with than needlessly attacking voting rights with harmful bills like SB 3.” 

Senate Republicans offered the amendment in committee Tuesday morning and called a vote less than 30 minutes later, denying Senate Democrats and voting rights advocates an opportunity to review the language and provide feedback prior to the vote. It is unclear whether the poorly written amendment was intentional or a result of Senate Republicans jamming the bill forward without regard for public input or voter impact.

On The House Floor, Shea-Porter Pushes Amendment To Require Insurance Coverage Of Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

As Congress Debates Health Care Legislation, Congresswoman Highlights New Hampshire Heroin, Fentanyl, and Prescription Opioid Crisis 

WASHINGTON, DC Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) today offered and the House voted on a Motion to Recommit that would require association health plans to provide coverage for substance use disorder treatment. As Congress this week considers the American Health Care Act, which would cause 24 million Americans to lose their coverage, Shea-Porter called on her colleagues to work together to improve access to quality, affordable health care.

“Today, Members of Congress can say to my constituents in New Hampshire and their constituents across this great nation: we hear you. We know your sons and daughters, your nieces and nephews, your neighbors and friends are struggling, and we have your back,” said Shea-Porter. “We believe all Americans deserve good health insurance they can count on when they need it most. We aren’t going to pull the rug out from under people who are about to turn their lives around.”

Shea-Porter’s remarks highlighted the fact that much-needed treatment facilities, such as Hope on Haven Hill in Rochester, which she recently visited, have been able to open because more Americans now have insurance that covers treatment thanks to the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion. 

177 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted for Shea-Porter’s motion.

SHEA-PORTER’S FULL HOUSE FLOOR REMARKS

“I rise today on behalf of the families and communities across this nation that are confronting a public health threat of our time: the heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid crisis. 

“This motion would simply ensure that the health insurance plans that today’s bill would permit must still cover substance use disorder treatment, including for opioids, as an essential health benefit.

“Under current law, we require insurers to cover this treatment. Before the Affordable Care Act, many insurers either didn’t cover treatment at all or imposed onerous requirements that blocked people from getting needed care.

“H.R.1101 would roll back that guarantee. It would allow association health plans to return to the kind of skimpy coverage that left so many people struggling with an opioid disorder in dire straits at critical moments. We know there’s often a narrow window of opportunity — after an overdose, for example — for someone to commit to treatment, and these are the moments when being able to make a single phone call can make all the difference. 

“This week’s debate about health care is extremely important. Will we decide to work together to improve the American people’s access to quality, affordable health care or weaken benefits and kick 24 million or more of our constituents off their plans? We all need to speak up on behalf of those whose lives have been turned around because they can now access care.

“As I talk to families, medical professionals, and law enforcement officials in my district, I hear stories that highlight the dramatic impact that improved access to coverage has had in making treatment a real option for people with substance use disorder.

“This week, we see that base of coverage is under serious threat. In fact, experts estimate that repealing the Affordable Care Act’s coverage provisions would cause about 2.8 million Americans with a substance use disorder to lose some or all of their coverage.

“And the quality of that coverage is also at risk. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance now must cover treatment for behavioral health and substance use disorder, just the same as it would cover any other medical service. These parity protections mean insurers must cover treatment for substance use disorder with comparable cost-sharing — no more surprises, like annual visit limits, higher copays, or frequent pre-authorization requirements and medical necessity reviews.

“Badly needed facilities are opening because plans now cover these services. I recently visited a recovery home for pregnant women and new mothers that was able to open its doors this year in my hometown only because it could rely on Medicaid expansion. Legislation like H.R.1101 would cause fewer people to have this coverage, meaning fewer facilities can open.

“Many of you know that my home state of New Hampshire is on the front lines of the heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid crisis. Our communities are struggling, and helping people get treatment is key to turning the tide. I have met the people who couldn’t be in a recovery facility without Medicaid expansion. 

“Today, Members of Congress can say to my constituents in New Hampshire and their constituents across this great nation: we hear you. We know your sons and daughters, your nieces and nephews, your neighbors and friends are struggling, and we have your back. We believe all Americans deserve good health insurance they can count on when they need it most. We aren’t going to pull the rug out from under people who are about to turn their lives around.

“I urge my colleagues to support this motion, which would not delay passage of the underlying bill. Thank you.”

Shaheen, Hassan Call for Reversal of Proposed EPA Cuts That Would Devastate Americans’ Clean Air and Water

SENATORS: Trump’s pledge for clean air and water is “meaningless” when followed by proposal for drastic cuts that would undercut EPA’s core mission 

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined a group of 36 Senators in opposing President Trump’s proposal to inflict a more than 30 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget.

Expressing “extreme concern” over the cuts, the Senators wrote to appropriations leaders, “During the President’s February 28, 2017 address to Congress, he pledged to ‘promote clean air and water.’ Such a pledge is meaningless when the President follows it by proposing a 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget and a 20 percent reduction in its staff. If enacted, this funding cut would effectively eliminate the EPA’s ability to execute its core mission to protect public health and ensure citizens have clean air, clean water, and are protected from hazardous waste and contaminants.” 

The Senators highlighted many areas of concern where the proposed cuts would significantly harm communities across America—from reducing clean air and clean water grants and cutting enforcement against polluters, to cutting funding for Superfund sites by 30 percent, to entirely eliminating efforts to combat climate change and clean up major regional bodies of water, like the Great Lakes and the Columbia River Basin. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has insisted that states should be the primary protectors of the environment. However, this proposed budget would drastically cut grants that are crucial for states to protect their clean water and clean air, monitor health impacts of pollution, and reclaim toxic-contaminated sites throughout the country.

“We urge you to oppose these drastic and dangerous cuts, and support continued funding for the EPA,” the Senators concluded.

The letter was signed by Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

The full text of the letter is copied below.

Dear Chairman Cochran and Vice Chairman Leahy:

We write to express our extreme concern over the drastic cuts President Trump proposed in FY2018 funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During the President’s February 28, 2017 address to Congress, he pledged to “promote clean air and water.” Such a pledge is meaningless when the President follows it by proposing a 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget and a 20 percent reduction in its staff. If enacted, this funding cut would effectively eliminate the EPA’s ability to execute its core mission to protect public health and ensure citizens have clean air, clean water, and are protected from hazardous waste and contaminants.

As the Senate works to finalize FY2017 appropriations and develop legislation to fund the federal government in FY2018, we urge you to oppose these cuts.  The EPA must receive funding and staffing levels that ensure the agency can fulfill its mission to protect the environment, reduce pollution, and safeguard public health.     

Unfortunately, instead of maintaining environmental protections, President Trump’s FY2018 budget blueprint would simply eviscerate the EPA’s core functions and adversely impact state budgets that rely on EPA grants for environmental remediation. President Trump’s vision for the EPA includes:

  • reducing clean air and clean water grants programs and cutting enforcement against polluters by 23%,
  • instituting a 45% cut to core state grants programs which make up nearly 30% of state environmental agencies’ budgets and allow them to implement longstanding environmental laws,
  • eliminating the Energy Star program, which saved consumers over $34 billion in utility bills in 2015 alone, and over $430 billion since 1992,
  • cutting research funding by nearly 50%,
  • eliminating the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which allows the EPA to evaluate impacts to human health from chemical exposure,
  • cutting funding for Superfund sites by 30 percent, making it harder to clean up and reclaim contaminated and polluted sites across the country
  • eliminating climate change research and partnership programs, international climate change programs, and defunding the Clean Power Plan,
  • eliminating geographic programs accounts that provide important resources to clean up iconic water bodies that provide millions of Americans with drinking water including the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, Puget Sound, the Columbia River Basin, the Long Island Sound, and the San Francisco Bay,
  • cutting all funding for the U.S.-Mexico border program that support cross-border drinking water and sanitations improvements in the southwest,
  • cutting all funding for Alaska Native villages and rural communities that helps provide critical drinking water and sewer systems, and
  • eliminating the Targeted Airshed Grants program, which provides tools for local states, governments and tribes to reduce hazardous air pollution.

This is not the vision of the EPA that Americans support. We must ensure that vital public health and environment protections are maintained and funded. We urge you to oppose these drastic and dangerous cuts, and support continued funding for the EPA in the FY2017 and FY2018 appropriations process.

Sincerely,

US House Passes Bill To Arbitrarily Fire Workers At The VA, Bypassing The Union’s Due Process

Yesterday, in a largely party line vote of 237-178, the U.S. House passed, “H.R.1259 – VA Accountability First Act of 2017.” A bill that would allow the Secretary of the VA to arbitrarily fire workers without any due process. HR 1259 was written and sponsored by Tennessee Republican, Rep David Roe (R-TN-1) who also cosponsored legislation to revoke the Department of Labor’s new rule mandating employers keep records on all workplace injuries.

The Hill explains:

The bill would give the VA secretary expedited removal authority, meaning any employee fired by the secretary would be out of a job and off the department’s rolls that day.

…One point of conflict in the legislation was the elimination of the union grievance process available to represented employees as a means to appeal negative personnel actions. About 76 percent of VA’s workforce is represented by a union, and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and author of the accountability bill, has complained the grievance process takes an average of 350 days to complete. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 230,000 VA employees, called the legislation ‘a union-busting bill, plain and simple.

…A spokeswoman for Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the senator is still “exploring options” for a bill that can pass the Senate. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has introduced companion legislation for Roe’s House-backed measure. Isakson himself said he is committed to working with his House colleagues and Democrats on his committee to move accountability legislation forward.

“I’m committed to moving legislation that gives Secretary Shulkin the tools to discipline bad employees,” Isakson said. “Accountability reform is a top priority.” The senator authored bipartisan legislation in the last Congress to expedite the firing process at VA, but it stalled in the Senate after clearing his committee.

This bill is designed to bypass the American Federation of Government Employees grievance procedures and weaken the union’s ability to represent workers.  David Cox Sr., National President of AFGE released the following after the bill passed the House.

“The House has passed a venomous piece of legislation from Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee that would undermine the government’s sacred obligation to serve our veterans by gutting frontline employees’ basic worker rights at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Make no mistake – this legislation is not about improving accountability at the VA, and it certainly won’t improve veterans’ access to quality care and earned benefits. This is part of an orchestrated attack on the rights of federal workers and employee unions that’s ripped from the playbook of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“While we are deterred by the House’s action, we are not defeated. We will fight this bill when it goes before the Senate, and we will continue to make the case to lawmakers and the public that attacking the rights of working-class men and women at the VA and across government is counterproductive to our shared goal of providing the best service to the American taxpayers.”

The AFl-CIO was also displeased with the passage of this legislation calling it a “slap in the face” to the workers at the VA.

“Yesterday, instead of standing up for working families, 10 Democrats in Congress joined with Republicans in attacking workers at the VA. Their support of this anti-worker legislation is not only a slap in the face to the 120,000 VA employees who are themselves veterans, but a betrayal of the promise to treat all VA workers fairly,” said Bill Samuel, AFL-CIO Director of Government Affairs. 

Everyone agrees that the VA needs help.  They are understaffed, overloaded, and underfunded, but the ability to arbitrarily fire hard working people at the VA will do nothing to solve any of these problems.

The reforms Congress should be looking for would include ones like the amendment submitted by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH01) to improve VA hiring of mental health professionals.

Congress must also accept that additional resources are necessary to hire more doctors and nurses at VA health centers and to reduce the delays many veterans face in getting the care they need.  This would include spending money to merge the DOD’s and the VA health records system.

Another major issue facing the VA is that 20 veterans commit suicide every day.  Many of these vets are suffering from PTSD and are unable to get the care they need. NH Congresswoman Annie Kuster (D-NH-1), a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, is working with the newly appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, to address this ongoing epidemic.

“The men and women who have served our nation in uniform cannot be cast aside once they have returned home,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “The suicide rate among veterans is a tragedy and it’s long past time we came together to address this challenge.”

“The president and I have made it clear that suicide prevention is one of our top priorities,” Secretary Shulkin said in a statement. “We know the rate of death by suicide among Veterans who do not use VA care is increasing at a greater rate than Veterans who use VA care. This is a national emergency that requires bold action. We must and we will do all that we can to help former service members who may be at risk. When we say even one Veteran suicide is one too many, we mean it.”

So while 20 veterans a day commit suicide and the thousands that die every year awaiting care should be the top priority of the President and Congress, but instead they are choosing to attack the very workers who are trying to help fix this broken system and get care to those who desperately need it.

Shea-Porter Gets Amendment To Improve Hiring At The VA, Passed In US House

American Legion-Endorsed Shea-Porter Amendment Earns Bipartisan Support 

WASHINGTON, DC— Everyone agrees the VA needs help.  Healthcare professionals at the VA are swamped. There is a shortage of qualified health professionals and this is leading to the VA’s failure to care for those who need it.

The VA’s current shortage of mental health providers causes unacceptable wait-times for veterans who need care for mental health conditions, including substance use disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and military sexual trauma.  More than 20% of veterans suffering from PTSD also suffer from substance use disorder, and 25% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan showed signs of substance use disorder.  Between 2010 and 2015, the number of veterans suffering from opioid use disorder increased by 55%.

Yesterday, the U.S. House passed an amendment introduced by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH01) to improve VA hiring of mental health professionals.

“The VA faces a critical shortage of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health counselors, and peer support specialists. These providers care for our veterans with behavioral health needs that include post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, and substance use disorder. Too many of our veterans must wait to receive the mental health care we have promised to them, and some never receive needed care at all,” Shea-Porter said while offering the amendment on the House floor. “In my home state of New Hampshire, we are fighting a fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioid crisis that is disproportionately affecting the veteran community. Increasing mental health provider capacity will allow more of these veterans to enter treatment and, ultimately, recovery.”

Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, rose to speak in support of Shea-Porter’s amendment, saying: “It’s critical that VA closely track to mental health vacancies on an ongoing basis so they can be prioritized and filled to prevent any disruptions in care to our most vulnerable veterans. I’m fully supportive of this amendment and grateful to Representative Shea-Porter for submitting it.” 

The American Legion said: “The American Legion thanks Congresswoman Shea-Porter for her amendment, which will improve veterans’ access to critical mental health services, allowing the VA to better serve those who have sacrificed for our nation.”

Shea-Porter’s amendment passed as part of H.R. 1367, a bill to improve the VA’s ability to hire and retain health providers, which would create a database to help match qualified applicants to critical open positions at the VA, facilitating faster hiring. Because of Shea-Porter’s amendment, that database will list open mental health positions if the bill becomes law, improving the VA’s ability to hire needed mental health professionals.

A former military spouse, Shea-Porter understands the challenges facing our military families and veterans. This Congress, she has cosponsored 18 bipartisan bills to improve services for veterans, including the WINGMAN Act, legislation she co-introduced and the House passed earlier this year to make it easier for certified Congressional caseworkers to assist veterans. She has been a leader in the fight to lift the harmful federal hiring freeze that is damaging the VA’s ability to provide care and limiting employment opportunities for returning veterans.

“Our veterans deserve to be treated by professionals who fully understand the veteran experience and veteran-specific mental health conditions. That is why it is so important for veterans to have the option to receive specialized mental health from VA mental health professionals who have the training that will allow them to build trust,” said Shea-Porter on the floor of the House yesterday“There is an urgent need to address this problem. Every day, 20 veterans commit suicide. MST. Opioid. PTSD. These are all crises we need to address. The time to act is now. Please vote yes on this amendment.”

Trump’s Budget Is A Disaster

NH Elected Leaders Along With National Labor And
Environmental Leaders Respond To Trump’s Proposed Cuts.

President Trump unveiled his $1.1 trillion dollar budget for discretionary spending yesterday. Elected leaders, labor unions, environmental groups, and advocates for working people are outraged at the massive cuts.

The Hill reports:

The 54-page “America First” document, focused primarily on fiscal 2018, would boost the Defense Department and related programs at Energy by $54 billion, and Homeland Security by $2.8 billion. It would offset such increases by cutting the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development by $10.1 billion (28 percent) and the Environmental Protection Agency by $2.6 billion (31 percent). The latter cut would eliminate approximately 3,200 positions, according to the document.

The agency-by-agency plans include eliminating dozens of grant programs at the Education and Commerce departments—many of them related to climate change. And Trump would eliminate the following agencies:

The African Development Foundation; the Appalachian Regional Commission; the Chemical Safety Board; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Inter-American Foundation; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; the Legal Services Corporation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; the Northern Border Regional Commission; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; the United States Institute of Peace; the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“The Trump administration should immediately go back to the drawing board,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). “This budget is a blueprint for undermining the health and well-being of Granite Staters and would be particularly devastating for seniors. It’s needless and cruel to drastically cut programs that so many people in New Hampshire depend on like Meals on Wheels and heating assistance. It also makes no sense to cut clean air and water programs, coastal protection, and economic development to struggling rural communities.

“President Trump’s budget is built for corporate special interests, not hard-working families and small businesses. The Trump budget makes indiscriminate cuts that will make it harder for entrepreneurs to grow job-creating small businesses, harder for children to access a high-quality public education, and harder for seniors to stay in their own homes and live independently,” said Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH).  “President Trump’s budget would undermine efforts to strengthen our health care workforce, making it more difficult to combat the heroin, fentanyl and opioid crisis. It would slash funding for life-saving medical research. And it would cripple our ability to fight climate change, which threatens New Hampshire’s economy and our way of life.”

“A budget is a moral document. As an American, I’m deeply concerned about the drastic cuts President Trump has proposed in this budget blueprint, which fail to reflect our shared morals and values. As your representative in Congress, I will fight to stop this budget, which would hurt New Hampshire in so many ways,” said Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH01). “As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I’m particularly concerned that this budget reflects an incomplete understanding of how we keep our nation safe. Since World War II, our international affairs budget has been key to maintaining stability around the globe, and cutting critical international aid and diplomatic funding would be disastrous for our national security.”

“Today’s budget would even eliminate programs that feed the hungry, including after-school nutrition assistance and Meals on Wheels. Contrary to the Administration’s outrageous statements at this afternoon’s press briefing, these programs do work, and cutting them is the exact opposite of ‘compassionate.’ I will not stand by while this Administration uses falsehoods to justify destroying vital support systems for our most vulnerable citizens. Today I will be sending the Trump administration just a few of the dozens of peer-reviewed studies that show Meals on Wheels improves seniors’ overall health and nutritional intake and reduces social isolation. This budget is yet one more example of President Trump turning his back on the very people he claimed he was there to help,” Shea-Porter added. 

“President Trump’s preliminary budget proposal is simply a disaster for our economy, environment, seniors, and hardworking families in New Hampshire and across the country,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster (D-NH02). “This budget proposal should raise red flags for anyone who wants to grow our middle class, create good paying jobs, protect human health and our environment, and fight climate change. We can’t turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made in recent years to get our economy pointed in the right direction and this budget is little more than a return to the same failed policies of the past. President Trump needs to seriously reconsider this approach and focus on crafting a budget proposal that benefits all Americans, not just those at the very top.”

Kuster also highlighted cuts to programs that directly impact New Hampshire working families.

“In New Hampshire, we know the serious impact toxic contamination can have on drinking water, public health, and quality of life. Slashing thirty one percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget will only make defending public health and our environment more difficult. Cutting the Department of Health and Human Services by thirteen percent will eliminate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and harm programs like Meals on Wheels and home visits that our seniors and low-income families rely on.”

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO called this budget proposal “destructive and dangerous.”

“Working people in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin didn’t vote for a budget that slashes workforce training and fails to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. President Trump’s proposed budget attempts to balance the budget on the backs of working families. The $54 billion cut to programs that benefit working families is dangerous and destructive. Huge cuts to the departments of Labor, Education and Transportation will make workplaces less safe, put more children at risk and make improving our failing infrastructure much more difficult. The administration can and should do better.”

David Cox Sr., National President of the American Federation of Government Employees warned that this budget would lead to massive layoffs. 

“This budget shirks our nation’s responsibility to care for its citizens and ensure the public’s health and safety, help our struggling neighbors secure better jobs and safe housing, and promote democracy around the world,” Cox stated. “The severity of the budget cuts proposed by President Trump could require mass layoffs of employees at federal departments and agencies, although the budget blueprint released by the White House does not detail how many federal employees could lose their jobs.

“This cuts, if implemented, would have devastating and lasting consequences on the nation. Every American should study the facts, reject the rhetoric, and decide for themselves if they share the bleak vision of America that President Trump is promoting,” Cox added. 

Ed Wytkind, President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), said these cuts take our transportation infrastructure in the wrong direction. 

“The austerity measures offered for transportation in the President’s budget blueprint go in the wrong direction and must be rejected. We cannot cut our way to a better and more modern transportation system. The President has rightfully called for a historic $1 trillion investment in our transportation system and infrastructure. But the budget released today does not advance that vision and instead would deal a severe blow to many key investment programs that are critical to our passenger and freight transportation network.”  

“This budget proposal makes it even more clear that Trump has no intention of protecting our communities or preserving our future,” said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. “Slashing the EPA’s funding only helps make fossil fuel executives richer while wrecking the climate and leaving workers and families by the wayside. What we really need is investment in a 100% renewable energy economy that creates jobs and curbs the climate crisis, and our movements will keep fighting until we get it.”

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