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Granite State Rumblings: NH’s Child Poverty Rate Is Still Too High

New data released by the Census Bureau on September 17th show that poverty remains stubbornly high. In New Hampshire, 9.2 percent of people were poor in 2014 – roughly the same as in 2013 when 8.7 percent were poor.

The child poverty rate rose, with 13 percent of New Hampshire children living in poverty in 2014 – an increase from 2013 when 10.2 percent of our children were poor.

Disappointingly, our country’s economic recovery is hardly reaching New Hampshire’s poor, and progress remains slow. Nationally, the poverty rate fell slightly from 15.8 percent in 2013 to 15.5 percent in 2014. However, even if poverty keeps declining at the current rate – an extremely optimistic estimate – it would still take more than 25 years just to cut poverty in half across the U.S. It would take even longer – nearly 35 years – to bring child poverty down to that level.  

In order to speed up the pace, New Hampshire and the nation need to maintain and expand investments in programs with proven success in helping people out of poverty. The new Census Bureau findings add to the mounting evidence that programs like low-income tax credits, SNAP/food stamps, and subsidized housing reduce poverty now and improve children’s chances of gaining economic security in the future. But some effective programs do not reach enough of the nearly 118,000 Granite Staters and the 48 million Americans struggling in poverty every day, and others, like SNAP, could do more good if their benefits were higher. Even the modest progress beginning to show in the Census data will stall unless Congress acts to end spending cuts known as sequestration scheduled to hit many of these programs this fall.

Deep and Disproportionate Poverty

For a family of four in 2014, the official poverty line was less than $24,230. Despite this low threshold, more than 47,000 Granite Staters live on far less, below half of the poverty level.  Across the nation poverty disproportionately affects people of color. Nearly 27 percent of African Americans and 24.1 percent of Latinos in the United States are poor. In contrast, poverty for non-Hispanic whites is 10.8 percent. Nearly 22 percent of children are growing up in poverty, and the statistics are worse for children of color: 36.9 percent of African American children and 32.1 percent of Hispanic children nationally are poor.

We Can Speed Up the Pace in New Hampshire

Proven human needs programs lift millions out of poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) lifted 16,000 Granite Staters, including 8,000 children, out of poverty each year, on average, during 2011 to 2013.  In 2014, housing subsidies lifted 2.8 million Americans out of poverty, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty across the U.S.

Numerous research studies also show that investments in quality, affordable child care and early childhood education also lead to long-term gains for children, families and our economy. For example, Head Start participants are more likely to attend college and be employed and less likely to be a teen parent or in poor health compared to siblings who didn’t benefit from Head Start.

Congressional Cuts will Thwart Progress in New Hampshire

As effective as these programs are, their effectiveness is limited because of underfunding, and proposed Congressional cuts threaten these programs further. First imposed in 2013, sequestration’s impact through the end of 2014 resulted in 8 of the 18 agencies administering housing vouchers in New Hampshire reducing the number of households they served by 132 (some agencies in New Hampshire were able to increase the number of households served through 2014).  The 2013 sequester cuts also denied Head Start services to 146 New Hampshire children.  Thousands of rental vouchers were restored when Congress partly halted sequester cuts in FYs 2014 and 2015, and the numbers of children served by Head Start returned to previous levels in most areas.

Unfortunately, spending bills Congress has advanced so far this year assume that sequestration cuts will return in FY 2016. These House and Senate bills undercut the gains of the nation’s successful anti-poverty programs. Their proposed appropriations would mean that 1,300 fewer children in New Hampshire would have access to full day, full year Head Start when compared to President Obama’s budget. The House spending bill not only fails to restore the 67,000 rental vouchers still lost due to sequestration in 2013, it would cut even more, failing to renew 28,000 existing vouchers nationwide.  As a result, 130 fewer New Hampshire families would have the use of housing vouchers in 2016. The Senate spending bill is even harsher, failing to renew 50,000 existing vouchers nationwide, leaving 230 New Hampshire families without this assistance. 

More than 130 human needs programs have seen their funding cut since 2010, adjusted for inflation; about one-third were cut by 15 percent or more.  Further cuts to these programs threaten to halt the progress made in 2014 in reducing poverty. The Congressional Budget Office also estimated that maintaining sequestration could lead to losses equal to as many as 1.4 million jobs over the next two years.  Compounding these losses, as many as 10,900 fewer workers in New Hampshire would have access to job training and employment services if Congress has its way, compared to the President’s budget. New Hampshire would lose as much as $3 million in federal funding for K-12 education in low-income schools (Title I).  We need more investments – not less – in programs that are proven to reduce poverty so more Americans who need help can get it.

There is talk that Congress might avoid the sequester cuts by cutting safety net programs that don’t rely on annual appropriations, like SNAP and Medicaid. This is the wrong approach. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 13.9 percent of New Hampshire households were “food insecure” over the years 2012-2014 – that is, they could not always afford enough food.  SNAP reduces such hardships, but cuts in SNAP that occurred at the end of October 2013 cut the average benefit from $1.70 per meal to $1.40. According to health researchers Children’s HealthWatch, that cutback made SNAP households with children under age three 23 percent more likely to be food insecure, placing the children at risk for bad health and education outcomes.  If Congress seeks to offset the cost of stopping sequestration, it should close tax loopholes or end a few corporate tax breaks. Ending the extra tax breaks for hedge fund managers, for example (a proposal with bipartisan support), would save nearly $1.4 billion a year, nearly enough to fund the $1.5 billion to cover a full year, full day program for all children in Head Start.

In addition, if Congress fails to renew improvements made in 2009 to the EITC and CTC before they expire in 2017, 16 million people – including 8 million children – will be pushed into or deeper into poverty across the U.S.

Congress Needs to Stop the Cuts

Our state and our country are continuing to recover from the Great Recession, and too many Granite Staters are still being left behind. By 2020, more than half of children in the U.S. are expected to be part of a minority racial or ethnic group.  If the shamefully high poverty numbers for African American and Latino children stay so high, the future economic growth of New Hampshire and our country will be endangered as a larger proportion of our children grow up with less education and less connection to good-paying jobs. Increasing investments in programs like Head Start and safe, secure housing will give these children a better start and will benefit New Hampshire and our country as a whole as they become adults.

Members of Congress have a choice to make. They can continue to cut, forcing more Granite Staters into poverty and pushing our country backwards. Or they can stop the sequestration cuts so New Hampshire and the whole nation can expand – not cut – programs that prevent and eliminate poverty. And they can do so without cutting safety net programs like SNAP, low income tax credits like the EITC and CTC, and Medicaid.

This report was prepared by Every Child Matters in NH and the Coalition on Human Needs.

Growing Up Granite 

Our friends at the NH Fiscal Policy Institute released the following based on the census data:

The latest pieces of the puzzle regarding New Hampshire’s economic health reveals a mixed bag. According to data released yesterday by the US Census Bureau, more residents have health insurance, yet household incomes are barely rising and poverty reduction remains elusive.

GSR151Following two years with very little change, in 2014, the number of New Hampshire residents without health insurance fell by nearly 20,000, from 140,252 to 120,456. A decline was reasonably expected given that New Hampshire began enrollment in its Health Protection Program, which expands health insurance access for low-income adults, in August 2014. Previously released telephone survey results from Gallup corroborate the Census findings. For context, 9.2 percent of the state population is estimated to not have health insurance. This places New Hampshire in the middle of the pack among states, with Massachusetts (3.3 percent) and Texas (19.1 percent) being the states with the lowest and highest shares of its residents without health insurance.

Additionally, the Census data does not fully capture the effects of expanded Medicaid in the New Hampshire because the state began the program mid-year. In contrast, respondents to the American Community Survey, the tool the Census Bureau uses to capture this information, received the survey at various points throughout calendar year 2014. Thus, if a resident received a survey in March and was uninsured, but then obtained a policy in August through the Health Protection Program, they would still be counted by the Census Bureau as uninsured. Consequently, this time next year, a further decline in the number of uninsured is probable.

GSR152On the other hand, New Hampshire residents continue to struggle with exiting poverty, especially those in households with children. Between 2013 and 2014, the total number of Granite Staters in households with income below the poverty line rose from 111,495 to 117,983. While this increase is not statistically significant, it does indicate that our least fortunate residents are making minimal headway in climbing the economic ladder. Notably, New Hampshire’s poverty rate of 9.2 percent is the lowest in the nation.

Mississippi, at 21.5 percent, has the highest share of its population living in poverty. Nevertheless, the issue of households not earning enough for basic needs has become more pervasive since the turn of the century, with the number of New Hampshire residents living in poverty having almost doubled since the year 2000.

For households with children, the situation appears to have worsened again. In 2014, 12.5 percent or nearly 32,900 related children under age 18 lived in households with incomes below the poverty line. This is a statistically significant rise from 2013, when it was estimated that 9.7 percent or nearly 25,600 children were in households earning less than the official poverty level.

Finally, in 2014, the state’s median household income – the income level representing the middle of all the state’s households – was $66,532. While it is encouraging that this figure, adjusted for inflation, has stabilized over the last two years, the fact remains that the purchasing power, or ability to buy goods and services, of the median income household is about 7 percent lower than it was in 2007.

NH Worker To Legislature: Current Revenue And Spending Levels Fail The People Of NH

An open letter to the NH Legislature 

Hello my name is Paula.  I want to thank you for the work you all do for New Hampshire but it is not enough.  State employees and the citizens of New Hampshire need you to develop new revenue!  

I work for you and the citizens of New Hampshire.  I earn approximately $20.00 an hour.  I perform the regular duties of two positions, one of which was taken away when someone retired.  I process applications, which means I certify applicants to our program based on a child’s chronic health care needs and I also pay bills on behalf of many families for the program.  Presently, besides my regular duties, I am also covering for another program within the department – helping with invoicing and everything that goes along with it.  I also help coordinate other things in my office and covering a portion of another job due to someone’s vacation.  

I worked in the private sector while my children were growing up and when they became older I decided to apply for state service so that I could give something back to a state I loved so much.  I have loved to work for this state and our citizens for the past 12 years (prior to that I worked as a temporary employee for the state).  I know how important my job is to get things “done” for the people we serve.  Because, if I can’t or don’t perform my duties then the children and their families will not receive the services they need. 

I am writing to not just ask for a 2% raise but to “beg” for it and I have never “begged” for anything in my life.  My husband can no longer work.  He worked for 45 years as a surveyor and the job has taken a toll on his body due to debilitating arthritis.  He can no longer work.  We also help family members through their hard times.  I worked a part time job for about eight months last year and I was too exhausted to continue.  I also earn extra money at some of the fairs around the state in the fall.

We, state employees, worked without raises for many years, gave up benefits, paid more for our insurance, etc.  We haven’t caught up to what we have given back to our beloved state and the people we serve.  I need the money for food, to help pay my monthly bills, which includes a mortgage, to pay taxes, and to pay for gas.  I would really appreciate my 2% raise and invite any of you to walk a day in my shoes beside me and tell me I don’t deserve it because you can’t find the revenue!

IBEW 490 And 2320 Endorse Joyce Craig For Mayor Of Manchester

Joyce Craig MayorThis morning, Alderman Joyce Craig announced that IBEW Local 490 and IBEW Local 2320 have endorsed her campaign for mayor of Manchester.  Together, they have over 350 members in Manchester.

“Alderman Joyce Craig has long been a strong advocate for the priorities of working families in Manchester,” said Denis Beaudoin, Business Manager of IBEW Local 490.  “She is a proven consensus builder who understands the true potential of Manchester and the importance of prioritizing education, combating the drug epidemic on multiple fronts, and fixing our roads and infrastructure, and has consistently displayed this during her years of public service.  She has proven her leadership skills as a marketing executive, School Board member, and Alderman.  It is time Manchester had a leader who understands the needs of working families, and that is why we are supporting Alderman Craig’s campaign for mayor of Manchester.”

“We are thrilled to endorse Joyce Craig’s campaign for mayor of Manchester,” said Steven Soule, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320,    “This is a critical election and it is important we have a candidate who cares about working people in our city.  Joyce has a vision to grow our city and plans to improve our schools, curb the heroin epidemic, and improve Manchester’s local infrastructure.  Her ability to work with others and find compromise is precisely what is needed in the mayor’s office.  We know Joyce will continue to stand up for working families and that is why we are supporting her campaign to be the next mayor of Manchester.”

“It is an honor to have the support of IBEW Local 490 and IBEW Local 2320, whose members have spent decades working in Manchester,” said Craig. “As mayor, I will continue to stand up for and protect Manchester workers and residents.  Over the past six years, we have seen the Mayor bully his way through School Board meetings, refuse to engage with other stakeholders to combat the drug epidemic, and ignore our failing infrastructure.  It is time Manchester reached its potential and I will be the leader to unite our city to combat the drug epidemic, improve our schools, and protect Manchester workers and families.”  

Joyce Craig currently serves as the Ward 1 Alderman and is a candidate for mayor of Manchester.

Joyce Craig Files To Run For Mayor Of Manchester

 Joyce Craig Mayor

MANCHESTER – This morning, Alderman Joyce Craig filed paperwork at City Hall to run for mayor of Manchester.

“I’m running for mayor because it’s time Manchester reaches its full potential,” said Craig.  “Unfortunately, over the past six years our city’s growth has stalled under Mayor Gatsas’s poor leadership.  Our schools are in worse shape, the drug epidemic is escalating, our roads are deteriorating and our infrastructure is outdated, yet the Mayor has put forth no concrete plans on how to tackle these problems.  It is time our city has a mayor who will work with all partners to solve these citywide problems.  I’m running for mayor to be the leader to move our city forward together and once again make Manchester a city that attracts families and businesses.”

Born and raised in Manchester, Joyce began her public service in 2007. As the mother of three young children, she was concerned by the many challenges facing Manchester’s schools. Joyce ran for and won a seat on the Manchester School Board in 2007 and has served as an Alderman since 2009.  Joyce was joined this morning by her husband, Michael, and their three children, William, Sarah, and Kathryn.

Colin Van Ostern: Should NH be more like TX?


By Colin Van Ostern

Heads turned sharply in Concord this week when NH Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and House Speaker Shawn Jasper both shared a press release inviting local businesses to relocate from New Hampshire to Texas. It was sent out originally by the Governor of Texas to New Hampshire political reporters Thursday, “Inviting New Hampshire Businesses to Seek New Opportunities in Texas.” All because Governor Hassan won’t approve an unbalanced state budget that, among other problems, creates special corporate tax giveaways without paying for them.

I can’t imagine a public policy dispute with a member of the other party that would cause me, as an elected official, to actively invite businesses to leave my state as Senator Bradley and Speaker Jasper did this week.  But let’s look past the backwards priorities and political gimmicks – on the substance, are they right?  Should New Hampshire try to be more like Texas?

Taxes?  It’s true Texas has low corporate taxes.  To keep them low, they rely on a hefty sales tax – which New Hampshire does not have. An Austin businessman pays an extra 8.25% on every supply he buys. So taken on the whole, the Tax Foundation found this year that Texas’s overall business tax climate ranked 10th in the nation.  Not bad, but still behind New Hampshire at 7th.

Workforce?  I’ve managed a $100 million business for a local manufacturer and currently work in a leadership role at our state’s fastest growing large employer – and I can tell you unequivocally that the most important resource for every great business is its people.  In New Hampshire, 91% of adults have a high school degree – the 4th highest state in the country, with high rates of bachelor’s and advanced degrees as well. Texas is dead last; 50th of 50 states. More Texans work at the minimum wage than almost any other state.  Only one in three adults in Texas have health insurance; again, 50th in the nation.

Quality of life? New Hampshire famously ranks as the #1 state in which to live, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. #1 in the country to find a home. #1 state to earn a living. #1 safest state.  On those rankings, Texas scores 38th, 47th, 25th, and 30th. And yes, our unemployment rate is 3.8% vs Texas’s 4.3%.

Welcoming & inclusive to all?  New Hampshire was one of the first states in the nation to embrace marriage equality; in Texas, a state constitutional amendment bans this basic human right. New Hampshire town meetings are famous. Our voter turnout leads the nation; Texas – well, you get the idea (47th).

The point is not just to compare brag sheets. New Hampshire succeeds because of a smart, balanced, and forward-looking portfolio of unique competitive advantages: our world-class workforce, best in the nation quality of life, inclusive community, and uniquely low taxes.  The ideologically-driven approach to state budgets that the Governor of Texas, Jeb Bradley and Shawn Jasper are pushing would undermine our workforce, weaken our high quality of life, and add a $90 million hole in the budget. 

It’s simply not worth spiking in-state college tuition, threatening to kick 41,000 NH citizens off newly expanded healthcare, undermining safe roads and bridges, and passing a deeply unbalanced budget that would result in even more cuts or tax increases later in the year, all to draw high-fives from conservative Republican governors in the Deep South.

Texas is a great state and it certainly has competitive advantages of its own (its beef brisket is admittedly hard to deny).  But when it comes to our overall tax climate, our workforce, our communities, and our quality of life – well, don’t mess with the Live Free or Die state.  That goes for Texas Governors and lawmakers here in New Hampshire alike.

Colin Van Ostern (www.vanostern.com) represents 49 towns across the state on New Hampshire’s publicly elected Executive Council, including Rochester, Dover, Concord, Franklin, and Keene.



Quality of life & related stats:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/07/why-the-south-is-the-worst-place-to-live-in-the-u-s-in-10-charts/

Educational attainment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

Business tax climate: http://taxfoundation.org/article/2015-state-business-tax-climate-index

Uninsured: http://www.texmed.org/uninsured_in_texas/

Minimum wage: http://www.bls.gov/regions/southwest/news-release/MinimumWageWorkers_Texas.htm

Sales Tax: http://window.texas.gov/taxinfo/local/

Unemployment: http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm

Marriage equality: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/entry/c/texas

Voter turnout: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/03/12/the-states-with-the-highest-and-lowest-turnout-in-2012-in-2-charts/

ICYMI: Concord Monitor Editorial: “Budgets of Unmet Needs, Raided Funds”

Concord, N.H. – Republicans in the legislature continue to take heat for budget proposals that fail to meet the state’s economic needs, including failing to adequately fund substance misuse treatment and not continuing the state’s successful Medicaid expansion program.

The Concord Monitor editorial board wrote, “A seemingly sensible, but woeful, statement by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Sen. Jeanie Forrester explains why New Hampshire is falling behind. ‘I would like it to be more,’ Forrester told Monitor State House reporter Allie Morris. ‘But this is what we can afford.’”

The Monitor noted that despite claims from Forrester and Republicans in the Legislature that the state can’t afford to adequately fund critical priorities like substance misuse treatment, “they want to reduce business taxes under the failed theory that it promotes business growth. That will guarantee a continued state inability to keep its promises and meet its obligations.”

The Monitor also points out that Republicans’ dedicated fund raids may be unconstitutional.

In a joint op-ed, House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff and Rep. Mary Jane Wallner wrote, “We were glad to hear that Republican senators agreed that the budget passed by the New Hampshire House was unacceptable. But, in trying to fix the House’s mess, Senate Republicans passed a budget that doesn’t actually do what they say it does… Now it’s time to work together to pass a responsible budget that actually funds the priorities it claims it does.”

See full roundup below:

Concord Monitor Editorial: Budgets of unmet needs, raided funds

… A seemingly sensible, but woeful, statement by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Sen. Jeanie Forrester explains why New Hampshire is falling behind.

“I would like it to be more,” Forrester told Monitor State House reporter Allie Morris. “But this is what we can afford.”

Forrester was defending the Senate’s decision to once again default on its obligation to dedicate 5 percent of state liquor store profits to substance abuse treatment.

… In fact, funding for the past four years has been roughly the same amount. … The result: more deaths, more crime, more broken families and higher welfare and corrections costs.

But back to Forrester’s statement.

Many of the deaths were in her district, and the senator knows that more needs to be done.

… Forrester’s statement was just another version of the Republican “live within our means” mantra. Mention revenue, in the state with the sixth-highest per capita income in the nation and Republican legislators sit down, put their hands over their ears and begin chanting, “La, la, la, la, la.”

To make matters worse, they want to reduce business taxes under the failed theory that it promotes business growth. That will guarantee a continued state inability to keep its promises and meet its obligations.

Neither budget includes money to continue the expanded Medicaid program that has allowed some 40,000 low-income adults to have health insurance, many for the first time.

… The budget the governor will either veto, sign or let pass without her signature will probably include money from raids on several dedicated funds, a practice former Concord mayor and constitutional savant Martin Gross and others say is clearly unconstitutional.

Recipients of grants from the state’s renewable energy fund, which has been raided in the past and will be to a smaller degree in the new budget, are debating whether to sue to prevent the raid. [Full editorial]

Nashua Telegraph Op-Ed: Time to come together on the budget

By Reps. Steve Shurtleff and Mary Jane Wallner

To pass a budget that truly meets the needs of our state requires both parties to put partisanship aside and work together to get things done.

No one political party has a monopoly on good ideas, and it’s crucial that both parties work together during the budget process to develop a responsible budget that will make progress for our people, businesses, and economy.

Back in February, Gov. Maggie Hassan presented a fiscally responsible, balanced budget that makes strategic investments to lay the foundation for a new generation of economic growth, without a sales or income tax.

Unfortunately, House Republicans took a very different approach, passing a strictly partisan budget that prompted outcry from all corners of our state.

We were glad to hear that Republican senators agreed that the budget passed by the New Hampshire House was unacceptable. But, in trying to fix the House’s mess, Senate Republicans passed a budget that doesn’t actually do what they say it does.

The Senate budget misleads the people of New Hampshire about what priorities are actually being funded, while relying on gimmicks that leave the budget unbalanced.

Senate Republicans claim to have restored critical services for our state’s most vulnerable citizens, including Meals on Wheels and services for individuals who experience developmental disabilities. But the reality is that their budget gimmicks – including things like magical savings estimates and unrealistic projections – place all of these services at risk.

Take for example, funding for mental health services. After claiming to “restore” $6.25 million in mental health funding, senators actually told the department to cut $6.25 million from the landmark mental health settlement the legislature approved last year, threatening critical services.

And when it comes to substance misuse treatment, senators used accounting tricks to try to hide the fact that they actually cut $3 million from the governor’s proposal for substance misuse treatment.

That’s to say nothing of their failure to adequately fund public safety, higher education and their decision not to continue our bipartisan Medicaid expansion program.

While even Senate Republicans agree that our state’s Medicaid expansion is working exactly as intended – if not better – their budget places 40,000 Granite Staters at risk of losing their coverage and creates uncertainty in the insurance market that could lead to higher rates for all of our people and businesses.

Though the Senate claimed we couldn’t afford to invest in priorities like Medicaid expansion and higher education with proven results for economic growth, they expressed no concerns about giving unpaid-for tax giveaways to big businesses, blowing a huge hole in our budget.

We believe the approach laid out in the governor’s fiscally responsible proposal would be the best way forward for our state. That said, we appreciate that passing a budget requires compromise, and as we enter the committee-of-conference process, we stand ready to do just that.

The good news is that Democrats and Republicans agree on many of the critical priorities that must be met for our economy to thrive. Now it’s time to work together to pass a responsible budget that actually funds the priorities it claims it does.

The people of New Hampshire didn’t send us to Concord to point fingers or engage in political gamesmanship. They sent us to Concord to solve problems and get results for our state.

We’ve come a long way together throughout this budget process, and it’s time to get ourselves over the finish line.

New Hampshire’s families and businesses are depending on our ability to work together to pass a budget that keeps our economy moving in the right direction, and we look forward to working with our Republican colleagues to do exactly that.

Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, D–Penacook, is the New Hampshire House Democratic Leader; Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D–Concord, is the ranking Democratic and former chair of the House Finance Committee.

Richard Gulla: New Hampshire Budget Reveals An ‘Ideological Assault’

President of the State Employees’ Association (SEIU 1984)

Rich Gulla (SEA/ SEIU 1984 President) It’s been written that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This adage fits well with the New Hampshire Senate budget that was pushed through along party lines – the Legislature continues to cut revenue and then tell us we cannot afford to invest in our state.

Over the next few weeks, legislators from the New Hampshire House and Senate will work to iron out the differences in their respective budgets. Unfortunately for the state’s citizens, neither budget meets the basic needs of the state; and the finished product is likely to reflect that.

The Senate budget severely underfunds the state’s community colleges and universities; underfunds substance abuse programs; does not provide enough support for those living with mental health issues; does not provide for snow removal; and downshifts even more costs to towns and municipalities. Their budget also includes the closure of Health and Human Services district offices in four communities – Conway, Claremont, Rochester and Laconia. Some of the communities that are in greatest need.

The Senate also failed to honor the collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated in good faith between the state of New Hampshire and the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire (SEA/SEIU 1984).

SEIU 1984 LogoIn fact, the Senate Finance Committee did not even discuss the contract in committee, even after Sen. Lou D’Allesandro requested that it be discussed more than once.

Despite several meetings between Senate leadership and SEA/SEIU 1984 representatives and assurances made by the senators, the collective bargaining agreement for thousands of hard-working state employees was not given the opportunity it deserved – to be heard and discussed. This disrespectful treatment of workers is disappointing, frustrating and disheartening.

The proposed budget provides a solid look at what today’s GOP supports: lower taxes for big out-of-state businesses. As a bonus, they are adding language in another bill for a special tax break for former governor Craig Benson and his wealthy friends at Planet Fitness. If you are keeping score at home: It is tens of millions of dollars for the wealthy and corporations, and zip for working families and people in need.

Ordinarily, our organization is bipartisan. We do not care if an elected leader is a Republican, Democrat or independent – if he or she supports public sector workers and the services they deliver to New Hampshire citizens, we are friends.

At this time, though, it must be clear to even the most casual political observers that we are facing an ideological assault that is unprecedented in its agenda and harmful to our citizens.

Every cut to expenditures and every cut in revenue is designed to hack away at our infrastructure; infrastructure that in many cases was built by the Republican party of yesterday – a party that believed in investing in our children, families and communities. They are bulldozing our future and then congratulating themselves because they cut needed services.

We cannot afford to continue doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results. We call upon our legislators to take this opportunity in committee of conference to build a budget that both parties can support, by funding these critical services and the hardworking people who deliver them every day.

Otherwise, the budget next year will look much like the budget this year, and all the budgets before it.

Election Bill Creating Poll Tax, Residency Requirements Passes House Election Law Committee

SB179 would penalize New Hampshire voters
rather than improve elections

Concord, NH – Today the House Election Law Committee passed an elections bill along party lines (11-8) that creates unnecessary hurdles for New Hampshire voters by instituting an arbitrary vehicle registration “poll tax” and a 30-day residency requirement. The key features of SB 179, which also passed along party lines in the state Senate earlier this month (14-10), are likely unconstitutional at both the state and federal level.

The House Election Law Committee amended SB 179 to require voters to obtain a driver’s license and register their car in New Hampshire – a change that has no clear connection to maintaining the integrity of elections. New Hampshire’s constitution clearly states that “all elections are to be free,” and this amendment acts as a poll tax by charging engaged Granite Staters vehicle registration fees in order to vote.

Furthermore, SB 179 falls short of meeting the standards set in the United States Supreme Court case Dunn vs. Blumstein, which permitted up to a 30-day registration requirement in states that need it for administrative purposes. Given that New Hampshire is a same-day registration state, there is no compelling argument that the state’s election administration officials need the additional time.

“The sponsors of this legislation claim these restrictions will somehow stop voter fraud, but the proposed changes would penalize New Hampshire voters rather than help our elections,” explained League of Women Voters New Hampshire Election Law Specialist Joan Flood Ashwell. “There are many ways for voters to confirm their identity without forcing them to pay vehicle registration fees, and there are many ways to ensure they live in our state without a 30-day residency requirement. We can’t deny eligible voters the right to vote here in New Hampshire.”

Despite all evidence to the contrary, politicians continue to push restrictive election laws based on a false narrative of ‘phantom’ voters. New Hampshire attorney general investigations and a national Washington Post investigation** found that in-person voter impersonation and registration fraud is virtually non-existent.

America Votes-New Hampshire State Director Paula Hodges said, “SB 179 is one of more than a dozen dangerous bills proposed by radical lawmakers that would deter voters and undermine New Hampshire’s long-held tradition of streamlining voting. The various proposed bills range from eliminating same-day registration, to creating new inter-state cross-check programs that could purge thousands of eligible voters from the rolls. It’s clear these politicians are trying to influence elections by discouraging voters, and that’s wrong.”

“We urge the governor to veto SB 179 should it pass both chambers this year,” Hodges added.

Granite State Rumblings: Building A New Hampshire Budget And Looking Deeper At Proposed Cuts

Last week we took a look at the federal budget process. This week let’s look at the state process.

The NH State Budget Process
The budget process is the arena in which public priorities are articulated and debated and ultimately where important choices are made by your elected officials. The budget process is a balancing act in which the “separate but equal” branches of government struggle with one another based upon the checks and balances established by the State Constitution.

The budget is often mistaken for an expenditure plan. It is, however, a plan to meet the public’s needs and priorities. There are two separate types of budgets: the Operating Budget and the Capital Budget.

  • The Operating Budget consists of current expenditures required to satisfy a particular mission and/or mandated purpose during the current fiscal year.
  • The Capital Budget provides for the state’s major long-term capital investments; such as, office buildings and prisons.

The state of New Hampshire’s budget is organized and controlled by RSA:9.  Although the Legislature meets yearly, New Hampshire continues to prepare its operating budget in two-year cycles called bienniums with the fiscal year running from July 1 to June 30. The “Biennial Budget.” consists of two annual or fiscal year budgets, numbered for the calendar year in which it ends.

New Hampshire’s Three Operating Budget Development Phases

Agency Phase
The Operating Budget process begins with the preliminary planning process by the state agencies. State agencies are required under RSA 9:4 to prepare a budget for the upcoming biennium. Often referred to as the “Agency Budget Request”, this includes a level of funding to provide the same level of services in the upcoming biennium, as well as any proposed new programs or other changes. From the beginning of August through September 30, the Agency Phase of the budget process is implemented. On October 1, the Agency Phase ends with the agency requests being submitted to the Department of Administrative Services’ Budget Office.

To view the latest completed Agency Phase requests for state agencies, use the following link for fiscal years 2016-2017: DAS Budget Office

Governor’s Phase
The second phase of the budget process is the Governor’s Phase. In November, the Governor holds hearings where state agencies explain their
Agency Budget Request. During this phase, the Governor reviews the agencies requests and compiles his/her recommendations which will be known as the Governor’s Recommended Budget. The Governor’s recommended budget is typically introduced as House Bills 1 and 2.

The Governor is required to submit a recommended budget to the Legislature for their consideration by February 15th.

To view the latest completed Governor’s Recommended Budget for the fiscal years 2016-2017 biennium, use the following link: DAS Governor Budget

Legislative Phase
The Legislative Phase of the budget process begins on February 15 and ends on June 30 of the odd numbered year.

The budget bills, HB1 (operating budget) and HB2 (“trailer bill”), are first referred to the House Finance Committee. The Committee splits into three “divisions”, each with assigned budget categories, to ultimately craft amendments to HB1 and HB2 for the full Committee and the House to consider and act upon.

Once the House has acted upon HB1 and HB2, the bills are referred to the Senate Finance Committee. The Committee considers changes to the House passed HB1 and HB2 and proposes its final recommendation on the two bills to the full Senate for action.
When the Senate completes action on the budget, it returns its version to the House.

Committee of Conference
Typically, the House will request and the Senate will accede to a Committee of Conference on HB1 and HB2. These Committees, usually comprised of members of House and Senate Ways and Means and Finance Committees, will ultimately negotiate the final versions of HB1 and HB2 (including revenue estimates). The compromise version of the budget is again voted on by both the House and the Senate. If the House and Senate adopt the recommendations from the Committees of Conference on HB1 and HB2, the bill is then submitted to the Governor for action.

Governor’s Action
The Governor can either accept the budget and sign it into law, let it become law without his or her signature, or veto it. If the chief executive takes the latter course, the Legislature must vote by a two-thirds majority in order to override the veto.

The full House is set to vote on the budget on April 1st.

There is still time for you to act. PLEASE call your state representative today and let them know that NH Is Better Than This, We Can Do Better.

Below is a summary of some of the cuts being proposed by the House Finance Committee and the life changing effects they will have on the young, elderly, disabled, poor, and everyone else who lives in the Granite State.

Proposed Health and Human Services cuts create uncertainty across N.H.
By Casey McDermott, Monitor staff
Sunday, March 22, 2015  (Published in print: Monday, March 23, 2015)

Today, members the House Finance Committee – the ones tasked with reviewing Gov. Maggie Hassan’s budget proposal – will meet to go over the plans they’ve come up with for their own version of the state’s financial roadmap for the next two years.

For the last week, the division that oversees funding for the Department of Health and Human Services has whittled away at a number of programs – in some cases, eliminating state funding entirely and jeopardizing the accompanying possibility of federal funding along with it.

In votes that were mostly split along party lines, with Republican representatives supporting the cuts and Democratic representatives opposing them, committee members opted not to renew the state’s Medicaid expansion beyond the end of 2016 and not to extend substance abuse coverage to the state’s traditional Medicaid population. They also completely eliminated Medicaid coverage for so-called optional services such as wheelchair vans, private duty nursing and hearing aids for people older than 21, resulting in an estimated savings of $8.6 million in general funds.

They voted to take away all state funding for ServiceLink Resource Centers – used heavily by the state’s elderly population, veterans and people with disabilities – to the tune of about $2.6 million, which will also likely result in the loss of additional federal funding. They also cut state funding for “social services for non-Medicaid eligible elderly clients” – such as home meal delivery and transportation services, for example – by about $10.5 million, or about half.

They decided to delay by a year the opening of a 10-bed crisis unit at New Hampshire Hospital, which was supposed to open in July. This unit was meant to allow people experiencing a mental health crisis to be admitted more quickly and to alleviate the days, sometimes weeks, of waiting many are otherwise facing in hospital emergency rooms across the state.

They reduced funding for the Division of Developmental Services by an estimated $52 million, half in the form of general funds and half in the form of matched federal funds.

They decided to cut funding for the state’s emergency shelters – which provide help to people who are homeless and in other crisis situations, such as domestic violence – in half, taking away an estimated $4 million over the next biennium.

In explaining these and other proposed reductions, House finance officials have said the state simply cannot afford to spend at the levels proposed by Hassan in her version of the budget. Lawmakers also point to increased spending required by two recent settlements, one involving the state’s mental health system and another involving the Medicaid Enhancement Tax, as major cost drivers that need to be balanced out with reductions elsewhere.

“A budget is a balance,” House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk said in an interview Friday morning, following a week of deliberation over these and other proposed reductions. “All of us would like to make sure our fellow citizens get every possible service from the state to the extent that their lives have been transformed by congenital or accidental injury or disability, but it’s not always possible for all needs of all people to be fulfilled all of the time.”

The proposed budget, Kurk said, “provides at least for basic needs.”

An estimate for the total, immediate cost savings achieved by these and other actions was still being finalized heading into this past weekend. An update on the reductions will likely be released today.

But already, many – from Nashua to the North Country – are worrying that some of these decisions, if carried through, would have devastating consequences for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

‘My life . . . would be over’

For Jeff Dickinson, the most troubling of the proposed cuts are the ones that would eliminate “optional” Medicaid services. As advocacy director for Granite State Independent Living, he knows hundreds of people who might be affected by the state’s decision to no longer pay for these services – but he’s also worried on a personal level.

Dickinson has muscular dystrophy, and he relies on personal care attendant services – one of the categories that would be eliminated under the House’s proposal. This, he said, allows him to “remain independent, continue working full time, pay my mortgage and live where I choose to live.”

“Without these (personal care attendant) services I am not sure how I would get out of bed, get dressed, fix meals, toilet, shower, and do all of those regular activities that most people usually take for granted,” Dickinson wrote in an email. “Truth be told, I wouldn’t be able to. I would be forced to live in a nursing home where I do not want to be. It is not an exaggeration to say that my life as I know it would be over.”

The private duty nursing services – which, in Dickinson’s case, are necessary to monitor his use of a ventilator overnight in case the device would malfunction – would also be eliminated.

“For people that receive these services,” Dickinson wrote, “there is nothing optional about them at all.”

Without the support from the state, HHS Deputy Commissioner Marilee Nihan said, many families will be left with few alternatives for maintaining the care they rely on. According to the most recent data, provided by Nihan: About 10,000 people are currently using ambulance services that would be eliminated; about 3,000 people are using speech and occupational therapies, each; and about 2,500 are using audiology benefits, such as hearing aids.

“We’re talking about families who make $15,000 a year, they don’t have a lot of options,” Nihan said. “They certainly don’t have the resources to be able to fund some of these services themselves.”

In some cases, Nihan said, if families choose to forgo these services because of a lack of money, that could ultimately create more problems for the state – resulting in worse health for those residents and more pressure, or “downshifting,” onto local welfare offices.

Families face uncertainty

Earlier this month, Darienne McGuinness of Stratham attended the finance committee’s public hearing on the budget in Concord. There, the mother of three urged lawmakers not to reduce funding for developmental disability support services. Her oldest son, 11, has autism and receives services through the in-home support waiver program.

Those services, along with others provided through the state’s network of 10 nonprofit agencies that provide support to families caring for loved ones with developmental disabilities, would likely be affected by the reductions proposed by lawmakers last week.

On Friday, McGuinness was one of several family members gathered in Concord for part of an advocacy training workshop through the New Hampshire Leadership Series. She and several other families there – caring for children between ages 6 and 25 – watched lawmakers’ actions with trepidation about the ramifications of the reductions to developmental disabilities funding.

Consistency is especially important when you’re caring for a child with a disability, they said, and the support services that fall within the realm of the proposed reductions provide just that.

“Kids who experience disabilities need consistent support in order to maintain safety and skills throughout their lives,” said Jill Prakop, a parent from Derry who is on the waiting list for support services for her two children, ages 7 and 9. “That’s after 3 o’clock, you know, what they get in school. They need that at 4, 5, 6, 7 o’clock when they’re out in their communities with their parents.”

Thanks to the availability of those kind of supports, Michael Poulin said his son Brandon, now 25, is able to live independently in his own apartment in Nashua. It was “a long road to get him there,” Poulin said, but it was worth it.

“He wants to be independent, he wants to have his own life, he does have a job – it’s working minimal hours a week,” Poulin said. “He just loves going out into the community, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.”
To help make that possible for Brandon, his family relies on help from personal care service professionals – which might be cut under the House budget proposal.

“Our biggest fear is that, with the loss of losing that, it would be a step backwards,” Poulin said. “Our goal is to reduce his budget over time, and we’re really doing good in getting there – if it takes a step backwards, when we’re dead and gone, we just fear what would happen to him when we’re not here anymore and he doesn’t have them anymore.”

Jennifer Pineo, whose 6- and 10-year-old children are both on the autism spectrum, said she wishes legislators realized that reducing access to family supports has not only a significant financial impact on the families affected – it also affects the community, even the state, as a whole.

“We’re doing a lot of work with a little bit of funds,” said Pineo, who lives in LIttleton and sits on the board of the advocacy group ABLE NH. “And I know when you look at it all together it seems like a lot of money, but when you look at what it would cost if they were in other places or not within the family, it’s going to cost a lot more – supporting us so we can stay as family units and work through that is going to be more cost-effective than, you know, decimating our system.”

ServiceLink acts as lifeline

Paul Robitaille, manager for the ServiceLink Resource Center of Coos County, is similarly worried about what the elimination of state funding would mean for the future of his center. Located in Berlin, the Coos County facility logged about 15,000 contacts with clients – some of which included multiple contacts by the same people – last year.

“It would leave a tremendous hole,” Robitaille said. “I don’t know what goes on in a lot of other counties, but here in Coos County, we’re used to partnering with a lot of other agencies.”

The ServiceLink centers, he explained, act as a kind of “front door” for other support services in the community and the state at large. Older adults come in for assistance with making sense of their Medicare options, he said, while veterans can get help applying for benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Low-income residents can connect with job training programs, housing assistance and more.

Many of the clients who seek help through ServiceLink are not computer literate, Robitaille added. Navigating through cumbersome, confusing online applications, phone menus or paperwork can get in the way of connecting people to the benefits they need, he explained.

“If ServiceLink is not here,” Robitaille said, “those questions do not get answered, and those people fall through the cracks.”

Rep. William Hatch, a Democratic lawmaker from Gorham, used to sit on the board of the Coos County ServiceLink. Particularly in rural regions of the state, he said, these centers are lifelines for people in need.

The loss of this program, combined with the potential loss of programs like at-home meal delivery for seniors, could make it more difficult for the state’s older population to remain independent in their communities, he said.

“This is real stuff,” Hatch said. “They do so much more than drop off meals three times a week. . . . This service enables people to stay in their homes, to not have to go to assisted living, to not have to go to a nursing home, which in many cases costs a lot more than having meals delivered.”

Cuts create HHS challenges

As lawmakers debated these and other proposed cuts, top department officials spent much of the week responding to questions and attempting to convey the potential toll of reductions.

The cuts, according to Nihan and other officials who were at the center of the budget discussions, will result not only in wide-reaching changes for the people who rely on the department’s services, but will also create significant administrative work for the department.

In some cases, the state will need to seek federal approval for proposed changes to its Medicaid program – something it’s had to do repeatedly in recent years, Nihan said. This, in part, has led federal officials to approach New Hampshire with increasing scrutiny, she said.

The state is also in the process of renegotiating contracts with the companies involved in its Medicaid managed care program, and those negotiations will also be affected – perhaps prolonged, officials said – by some of the representatives’ actions.

While Nihan hesitated to pick out one action that will have the most significant impact on the state – “I think they’re all egregious, contentious” – she said the decision to end the state’s Medicaid expansion is particularly disappointing.

Not only did the department and the state invest significant energy and resources getting the program off the ground in the last several years, she said, but now the 37,000 people who signed up for coverage through the expansion could end up “right back where they started” without access to affordable health care coverage.

And while Nihan and other officials have come to expect lawmakers to put forward some reductions, the outcome of last week’s votes was far more drastic than the department was expecting.

“There is virtually nothing in the work that DHHS does that went untouched,” Nihan said, “and nearly every single client who seeks services with DHHS is going to be impacted in some way.”

**Note: After voting last week to eliminate coverage for “optional” Medicaid services – not mandated by the federal government but still critical for many residents living with injury or disabilities – state representatives reversed course yesterday afternoon, opting to maintain funding after all.

FACT CHECK: Senate GOP’s False Excuses for Voting to Kill Bill to Ensure Balanced FY 2015

Concord, N.H. – After voting to kill SB 233, a fiscally responsible bill to help ensure the state ends FY 2015 with a balanced budget, Jeanie Forrester and Chuck Morse issued false statements underscoring that they’ve lost all credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

See below for a complete fact check of the false statements from Jeanie Forrester and Chuck Morse.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) issued the following statement on the Committee voting down the Governor’s request for budget cuts from the Legislative and Judicial Branches:

Forrester’s Claim: “For almost a year, I have been asking Governor Hassan to share with the Legislature information on the spending problems within New Hampshire agencies.”

Fact: Taking aside the numerous briefings from Governor Hassan and her administration to the Legislative Fiscal Committee, Forrester could’ve simply checked TransparentNH for monthly spending data by agency.

Forrester’s Claim: With revenues running ahead of projections, it was essential that we address spending proactively. Instead, the Governor kept the problem to herself, tried to blame it on revenues even as they exceeded our targets, and finally came forward with this package of cuts to branches that are controlling their spending.”

Fact: Forrester can’t possibly write with a straight face that Senate Republicans are “controlling their spending” after they massively overspent the Senate’s operations budget.

And the Governor has repeatedly highlighted budget challenges (dating back to last spring), including troubling trends with business and I&D revenues and increased caseloads at DHHS (mostly representing more children getting on traditional Medicaid due to a change in federal law). Beginning last spring, the Governor took preventive and preemptive action including, among other actions, instructing agencies to halt equipment purchasing. Right after, Senate Republicans went on a shopping spree for new office furniture.

Forrester’s Claim: “The Governor would have raided dedicated funds and taken money from branches that are living within their budgets, yet would barely scratch the surface of the $58 million overspending problem. As such, the Finance Committee voted down this bill.”

Fact: Again, Forrester’s statement that Senate Republicans are “living within their budgets” is beyond laughable.

Additionally, the dedicated funds mentioned in the bill are transferring dollars from one fund at the Department of Safety to another fund at the Department of Safety to address a shortfall in plea by mail revenue. This measure is necessary to fund state police detectives and the state crime lab.

Not to mention that Forrester’s claim of a “$58 million overspending problem” is simply not true. That number is an estimation representing all potential liabilities, including the large back-of-the-budget cuts to DHHS that Forrester and her Senate GOP colleagues insisted upon. As Forrester knows, all agency spending has been approved by the legislature (whether through the budget, Fiscal Committee, or other legislation).

Despite these challenges, the Governor has worked with department heads to make the tough decisions to maintain a balanced budget, including issuing an executive order that cut $18 million from state agencies and working with DHHS to submit a plan to end FY15 with a balanced budget.

Meanwhile, Forrester’s Finance Committee voted to kill a bill that would help ensure a balanced FY15 budget because it would require the legislature to make cuts to its own budget. (You can listen to the full hearing here).

Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) added the following statement:

Morse’s Claim: “The Legislature continues to manage its budget, and it is now time for the Governor to manage her state agencies spending problems.”

Fact: Governor Hassan has worked with department heads to carefully manage state expenditures, and state agencies beat their savings reduction targets last year by $8.5 million. Given additional challenges – including more children getting on regular Medicaid due to a change in federal law and back-of-the-budget cuts insisted on by Senate Republicans – the Governor has worked with department heads to make the tough decisions to maintain a balanced budget, including issuing an executive order that cut $18 million from state agencies and working with DHHS to submit a plan to end FY15 with a balanced budget.

When asked why the Senate overspent its operations budget and wildly missed its own budget targets, Senator Morse replied, “I had a lot on my plate last year.”

Morse’s Claim: She needs to stop raiding dedicated funds and trying to take money away from other branches of government that are meeting their Constitutional obligation to live within their means.”

Fact: Again, see here: “when it came to returning unspent money to the treasury, it was the State Senate that seemed to spend like there was no tomorrow.”

(Written by the NHDP)

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