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May 09. 2013 10:13PM

Social service advocates make case for funding

CONCORD - Senate budget writers heard impassioned pleas to keep the state's social safety net intact as they held a public hearing Thursday on the state budget recently passed by the House of Representatives.

Testimony in support of health and human service programs dominated the hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, with several speakers having a hard time maintaining their composure as they related personal stories of addiction, recovery, disability, child abuse and homelessness.

A line of speakers led by State Rep. Barbara French, D-Henniker, took turns urging the Senate to restore $120,000 a year in funding for 12 qualified family resource centers in the state.

"Help prevent child abuse and neglect before it happens by giving parents the resources they need to be successful," said Julie Day of Bow.

Lawmakers heard testimony on issues ranging from the $120,000 in family center funding to $5 million in federal money that has been awarded to the state Insurance Department to support consumer education and access to health insurance exchanges as part of the American Care Act (ACA).

The big ticket item was Medicaid expansion. An independent consultant hired by the state recently concluded that Medicaid expansion through the ACA would cost the state an additional $85.5 million over seven years, while providing coverage to 22,300 residents who otherwise would remain uninsured.

Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a group focused on cutting taxes and government spending, urged the Senate to reject the program supported by the House and Gov. Maggie Hassan.

He said the costs and the number of new people to insure have been underestimated, and cited a study by the Kaiser Foundation suggesting that use of the health care system would increase, but outcomes would not improve.

The result, he said, would be more cost-shifting to private insurers and higher premiums in the private market.

Several New Hampshire representatives of the American Association of Retired People spoke in support of Medicaid expansion.

Much of the session consisted of emotional testimony by the clients of social service agencies, nursing homes and community care centers.

Patricia Ramsey, owner and operator of the Edgewood Center in Portsmouth, urged Senators to restore $9 million in funding for nursing homes that would attract a federal match.

Kurt Christiansen of Campton, who suffered a severe brain injury in a 2008 automobile accident, was among many speakers to endorse funding for Developmental Services programs statewide. "I am now living my dream of teaching golf again, thanks to Developmental Services," he said.

A former drug addict who'd spent most of his life in prison called for continued funding of New Futures and other recovery programs.

The audience in Representatives Hall applauded several of the speakers, including Leslie Lane, her husband Bruce and their son, Hunter, of Farmington, who was born with severe birth defects.

Now 21, Hunter is deaf and in need of constant support from the Developmental Services agency in his community. Speaking in sign language that was interpreted by his mother, he related a lifetime of adversity and accomplishment, and held the large crowd in rapt attention as he struggled to voice three words: "Please help me."

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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