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House votes to restore $7 million in cut funding to state HHS

Staff Report
March 19. 2014 2:23PM

CONCORD – The House Wednesday passed legislation that would restore $7 million in budget cuts imposed last year on the state Department of Health and Human Services to avoid what proponents called “draconian cuts,” and send the remainder of a $15.3 million surplus to the “Rainy Day Fund.”

After the 185-153 roll call, the bill now goes to the Senate.

The House Finance Committee had voted 13-10 that the money should be restored, with the majority finding that the department is facing a $36 million general fund shortfall with program cuts imminent that would affect several services, including Children In Need of Services, ServiceLink and the system addressing needs of the developmentally disabled.

The minority of House Finance found that it was poor public policy that would reopen the 2014-2015 budget, contrary to “long-standing House practice.”

Republicans Wednesday proposed an amendment to devote the entire $15.3 million surplus generated in the last two-year budget cycle to the Rainy Day Fund,” which House Finance Committee member Neal Kurk of Weare said is now “woefully inadequate.”

But it was rejected on roll call of 172-157, with 15 Democrats joining GOP members in favor of the amendment.

“There is always a propensity to spend when the money is there. But prudent New Hampshire people know that just because you have money, you don’t have to spend it,” said Kurk. “We are woefully inadequate in our financial prudence.”

Kurk said the full surplus from the last biennium should have gone into the Rainy Day fund, but the law mandating that shift was suspended and all of the surplus was put into the current budget.

He said the budget surplus was estimated at $57 million but turned out to be $72 million, leaving an extra $15 million, which should go into the Rainy Day Fund.

Rep. Steven Spratt, D-Greenville, said the GOP amendment “has no real financial benefit to the State  of New Hampshire” and the state’s bond rating is “not dependent on the balance in the Rainy Day fund.”

After the GOP amendment was rejected, Kurk said the bill as proposed “is a spending the bill. We’re reopening the budget and giving $7 million to the Department of Health and Human Services because it needs it. Why just Health and Human Services?”

He noted the HHS budget is $2 billion in total funds and $650 million in state general funds.

“Seven million dollars represents 1 percent of its general fund appropriation. Every agency of this size can make that cut,” said Kurk.

“When we make a budget, we should put it to bed and not reopen it. Starting down this path is bad,” he said.

But Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, said the areas that the $7 million would fund are “things that this House previously approved. And the department is still facing a $36 million shortfall.

“Restoring it will avoid some of these draconian cuts and still sent $8.3 million to the Rainy Day fund. That’s the responsible thing to do under these circumstances.”

Also Wednesday, the House rejected, 197-122, a resolution that would have asked that Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield  to include one hospital in every county in the state. Sullivan County state representatives urged passing, noting that theirs is the only county without a hospital under the Anthem network.

It also voted to further study whether health insurance exchange navigators should be licensed by the state. Navigators work under the Affordable Care Act to help align consumers with health insurance plans. Opponents of the bill said that since the state has no state-based exchange and uses the federal exchange, it is up to the federal government to regulate navigators.

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