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Legislators at budget hearing urged to increase funding for health programs

State House Bureau

March 13. 2017 9:48PM

CONCORD — Members of the House Finance Committee got an earful from nursing home operators, representatives of the developmentally disabled and counselors on the front lines of the opioid crisis in the third and final public hearing on the state budget, this one held in Representatives Hall at the State House.

The testimony on Monday was similar to what lawmakers heard in Derry last week, as one speaker after another took the microphone to urge generous funding for alcohol and drug rehabilitation, services for the developmentally disabled and mental health treatment.

Many told personal stories of recovery or trauma in dealing with the addiction or disability of a family member.

Kona Johnson of Newmarket appeared with her 4-year-old daughter in her arms, her 10-year-old developmentally disabled son in his wheelchair and her statement in her right hand as she struggled to make her point.

“I’m here to ask you to fully fund services for developmental disabilities so they can receive the community-based support. This support allows me to work and keep my family from becoming dependent,” she said. “Hard-working families move mountains every day to meet the unique care needs of our loved ones.”

Many speakers called for dedicating 5 percent of the profits from state liquor stores to alcohol and drug recovery services, instead of the 3.4 percent recommended in Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget.

Jeanne Dietsch, with the Peterborough Economic Development Authority, told the committee that recovery services are as much an economic imperative as a health issue.

“New Hampshire Ball Bearing would like to expand, but they can’t find enough workers and will probably go to South Carolina,” she said. “All their workers have to pass drug tests and as many as 20 percent (of applicants) are disqualified because they can’t pass a drug test.”

Dietsch said the economy would enjoy a $6 return for every $1 invested in treatment for substance abusers and their families.

“How could anyone on a bipartisan House committee not vote to fully support at 5 percent our alcohol and treatment program, and applying a good share of that money to in-home visits,” she said.

Joanne Fenton of Keene described in harrowing detail the impact of growing up the child of an alcoholic mother and a father who worked three jobs, in support of increased funding for mental health services.

“Because of my family history, I volunteer at a local homeless shelter and jail, where there is much need. Many of those individuals got where they are because of mental illness,” she said. “The mental health system in New Hampshire is broken and it needs to be fixed.”

David Juvet, vice president with the statewide Business and Industry Association, urged the committee to support reducing business taxes, increasing investments in higher education and enhancing Medicaid provider reimbursements.

“New Hampshire has long underfunded its reimbursement to healthcare providers for services they provide to Medicaid recipients,” he said.

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Thank you, Sununu