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Friday, March 11, 2011

Advocates for the poor, elderly and physically or mentally impaired citizens blast proposed service cuts

CONCORD – Advocates and recipients of services for the poor, the old, the physically or mentally impaired and those with substance abuse jammed Representatives Hall Thursday to protest cuts in the next two-year state budget.

The message during nearly eight hours of public testimony was clear: Don’t use tough economic times to cut gaping holes in the state’s safety net.

Sherry Flynn of Milford said she and her husband Mike have struggled with cuts before to services for Erin, their 26-year-old, disabled daughter, but this is more threatening than ever.

“Our funding has been cut before we have made do but there is no way to make do with is being proposed here,” Flynn said.

“This is an insult to the most vulnerable people of New Hampshire. You are trying to right the wrongs at the expense of their quality of life. This is not why you or the governor were elected. You were elected to uphold New Hampshire’s way of life for all people.”

Gov. John Lynch’s proposed budget would reinstitute waiting lists for services for families that have adults with developmental disabilities.

It would also slash spending for home support waivers that have been essential for Wesley Shaffer, 9, of Litchfield, according to his mother, Christina, who got emotional during her testimony.

“Let me leave you with a question. Have you ever had the thought that it would be better if you outlived your child?” Christina Shaffer concluded, choking back tears.

“It is an awful thought to have and there are many parents that have had this thought because they fear for the lack of available funding, services, and qualified providers for their children.”

And Steven Densberger, vice president of Pennichuck Corp., went to bat as a director for Lamprey Health Care, one of the 10 community centers that face a $4 million cut in Lynch’s proposed $11 billion budget.

“There is no better investment of the state’s limited resources than in the community health centers,” Densberger said.

Eugene Robinson, bishop of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire, said the Republican-dominated Legislature should not kid itself about the impact these cuts will have.

“So do what you are going to do but make no mistake – this budget is simply irresponsible and immoral,” Robinson said.

“Pass this budget if you think you must, but don’t do it in the name of Yankee frugality and fiscal responsibility. Sitting here in one of the most prosperous states in the nation, let’s call it what it is: a stubborn or selfish unwillingness by us, the privileged, to tighten our own belts for the good of our fellow citizens who are truly in need.”

In his proposed budget last month, Lynch cut most state agency spending by 5 percent and shaved more than $150 million in aid to cities and towns.

Many came to the Statehouse, however, bracing for still deeper cuts when the House Finance Committee completes its spending plan, which is expected to spend $500 million less than Lynch would.

A House budget working group reviewed two-year cuts totaling $400 million to human services earlier this week and another today will examine $55 million in cuts to public safety.

More than 500 people filled the House chamber throughout the afternoon and evening with 175 signed up to speak.

At the sign-up sheets in front of the room, only two went on record in support.

James Roche, president of Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire, said this was the first time in seven years he had spoken in support of a spending item.

He urged House budget writers not to slash spending to providers of Medicaid health insurance for the poor, disabled and senior citizens because that only would raise private premiums that his member businesses pay.

Lisa Schwatko of Wilton said financing for the area agency serving her developmentally impaired son with early intervention services has made all the difference.

“If the budget is cut, my son and my family will not have the opportunity or chance to help him grow,” Schwatko said.

“It truly will be devastating to our family and to others.”

Locally, several speakers spoke out against a House working group for proposing to eliminate $1.7 million in support for New Hampshire Legal Assistance that would force the closure of an office in Nashua.

“We need them to help us navigate through contracts that require a college degree for those of us who don’t have one,” said David LaValley of Pembroke.

And Amy Messer with the Disabilities Rights Center in Concord spoke up for Harbor Homes in Nashua, an organization that would lose its community health support from the state under Lynch’s proposed budget.

Messer said this would lead to more admissions to New Hampshire hospitals.

“That would be not good for services, not good for costs,” Messer added.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.