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Twin State officials urge Congress to reauthorize funding for health centers



Monitor staff
Friday, December 08, 2017

New Hampshire and Vermont’s governor and senators urged Congress to reauthorize funding for community health centers Friday, arguing in a pair of letters that the current halt in funding is hurting organizations within the state.

“Health Centers across our states are the pillar of primary health for our most vulnerable population,” read a joint letter from Republican Govs. Chris Sununu and Phil Scott, of Vermont. “Without action by Congress, New Hampshire and Vermont’s Health Centers face a loss of $16 million and $14 million, respectively,” the letter, addressed to leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, continued.

Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan sent a similar letter Friday with Vermont’s two senators, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pressing for a restoration of federal funds by the end of the year.

Since Oct. 1, the Health Center Program – a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program that funds over 1,400 community health centers nationwide – has seen its federal funding put on hold, after Congressional representatives missed a funding renewal deadline.

The health centers, eight of which serve New Hampshire, are designed to provide primary care health services to low-income and vulnerable populations – including mental health and substance abuse care. About 70 percent of the funding they receive is federal, Sununu’s letter said.

After Congressional representatives failed to reauthorize funding, centers in New Hampshire have been thrown into bleak uncertainty, Sununu’s letter said. Many have initiated freezes on hiring and renovation projects, and are facing decisions on whether to scale back services and let employees go.

Allowing the funding lapse to continue, the governors added, could have broad effects.

“This loss will have significant impacts on local economies, resulting in site closures, job losses, and the loss of access to health care for tens of thousands of residents,” Sununu and Scott wrote.

Congress has been divided over how and when to restore funding for the centers, which in past years have enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Republicans have forwarded legislation that would restore funding by diverting money from the Centers for Disease Control’s public health fund; Democrats have argued for a full restoration of funding.

The matter will likely be resolved in an upcoming funding showdown; a stopgap measure to keep funding until Dec. 22 passed the House Thursday. Senate staff members said Friday the future of the funding will likely come down to the decisions of Congressional leadership.

In a statement Friday, Shaheen called the matter “an artificial crisis that has real implications for New Hampshire.”

“There’s clearly bipartisan support for both programs, yet a few extreme voices are preventing legislation from moving forward,” she said. “I’m continuing to urge Republican leadership to allow a bipartisan solution to move forward.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @ed ewittNH.)