State senators visit Claremont

In this file photo from June 12, State Senator Martha Hennessey, Mayor Charlene Lovett and Majority Leader Dan Feltes offered a press conference on the steps of City Hall to promote the Senate budget.

CLAREMONT — State Sen. Martha Hennessey and Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes visited Claremont Wednesday to promote the Senate’s state budget for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021. The Senate budget offers less aid to local governments for public schools than the House budget, but both offer significantly more than the governor’s budget.

“I’m proud to share today that the Senate budget does more to support New Hampshire cities and towns than at any time in the last 10 years,” said Hennessey. “The City of Claremont will receive an additional $330,000 in 2020 and in 2021, for a total of $660,000 in unrestricted aid.”

Mayor Charlene Lovett, who requested funds from Gov. Sununu for much-needed capital projects in the city, said the amount the governor’s budget allocated for those projects was around $250,000 for three different projects.

The Senate budget also restores stabilization grants in education funding and adds “disparity aid” to make educational funding more fair.

“For Claremont, this results in a net increase of $1.2 million in FY 2020 and $2.4 million in FY 2021 over current law,” said Hennessey.

Stabilization grants are not restored in the governor’s budget.

With revenue redistribution and the increase in educational funding, Claremont stands to gain $4, 316,014 over the next two years.

Hennessey, an educational psychologist, also noted that the Senate budget fully funds the Division of Children, Youth and Families, which will add staff to the agency. A “children’s system of care” would be implemented, leading to mobile crisis units for children in severe emotional distress (for instance, Child Protective Services intervention), so they can get treatment within one hour of a report. “It’s a cost-effective, proactive proposal that will address the critical needs of our children in a timely manner,” said Hennessey.

“It’s a big chunk of change, but it reduces pressure on our schools, reduces pressure on special education funding, reduces pressure on mental health and child protection costs down the road,” said Feltes.

Lead paint remediation: The Senate budget includes $3 million for loans to owners of properties for lead paint remediation, and also funds three positions to prevent lead poisoning.

The small crowd below City Hall’s steps included delegates Gary Merchant and Walt Stapleton, Claremont school board chair Frank Sprague. Feltes thanked the ones who traveled to Concord to advocate for budget items.

“Without the advocacy of Mayor Lovett, our mayors, our city managers, our town officials, people huddled here outside city hall, we wouldn’t have delivered the budget we did,” said Feltes. “Your input is critical to the process. I’m proud to say that this budget delivers the greatest state increase in education funding since Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.”

The Senate budget also fully funds full-day kindergarten, “treating kindergarten like any other grade,” said Feltes.

The budget also preserves Medicaid Expansion. “Right here in Claremont there’s about 3,500 people who get their health care through Medicaid Expansion,” said Feltes.

“This budget fulfills our fundamental belief that we are all in this together,” said Feltes.

“When will we know for sure what we’ll be able to plan on?” asked Frank Sprague, chair of the Claremont School Board.

Feltes said the senators will be meeting with representatives of the House next week. “Hopefully we’ll end up with a budget everybody agrees on. The governor presented some ideas today that were scaling back education funding significantly from where the Senate position is. Hopefully, we’ll work it out over the next week and we’ll have a budget that meaningfully funds education.”

Asked about mental health funding, Feltes said, “We do a number of different things. We solve the emergency boarding crisis, including expanding DRF capacity, we move the children out of the children’s wing of New Hampshire hospital, retrofit that wing to add more space, so that folks that are waiting in non-therapeutic settings — laying on cots in emergency rooms across New Hampshire — have a place to go. We also invest in 40 transitional beds so folks who are in New Hampshire hospitals because they don’t have a place to go, have a place to go and can get timely access to critical care and appropriate care. That will free up space.

“In addition we fund a secure psychiatric unit on the grounds of New Hampshire [mental] hospital so that folks who are in the state prison [because they have a mental health diagnosis] are no longer criminalized. They’ll have a separate facility run by Health and Human Services, not a private prison contractor. We would create that separate facility.

“There’s suicide prevention funding in here too. We provide many of the components across the continuum of care in the Senate version of the budget,” Feltes finished.

The House is expected to form a Committee of Conference to hash out the differences between the two budgets. The deadline for both houses to act on the state budget is June 27; the current budget expires June 30.

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