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State budget plan calls for consolidation of HHS district offices

Last modified: 6/5/2015 12:57:17 AM
One-third of the Department of Health and Human Services’ district offices, where residents can apply for Medicare and food stamps, could close under the state budget plan passed by the Senate yesterday. 

The spending plan calls for HHS to consolidate district offices to save $2 million over the next two-year budget. Offices in Claremont, Conway, Laconia and Rochester have been identified for possible closure, according to HHS.

The office consolidation was added to the state budget by the House, and it was not changed by the Senate. 

Office closures are far from certain. Representatives and senators will meet over the coming weeks to negotiate a final budget proposal before sending it to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. The two-year budget is set to take effect 
July 1.

“Nothing is final at this time,” said Hassan spokesman William Hinkle in a statement.

HHS has 11 district offices across the state. The offices are tasked with helping residents apply for food stamps, health care, Medicare and child care. The offices also serve as a headquarters for staff who check on foster care families and cases of abuse or substance abuse in the community. 

The Laconia office serves nearly 30 communities including Holderness, Tilton, Ashland and Groton. The office has a 62-person staff and a caseload of about 12,000 people, according to HHS. 

It’s premature to speculate about any closures because the budget is likely to change, HHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas told district office staff in an email sent yesterday. But, he added, the proposal would not reduce staff. The department is already investing in new technology, planning to phase in a “comprehensive customer service center” and looking into sharing locations with community partners.

“The clear intent of the Legislature is to achieve cost savings in General Funds,” Toumpas wrote. “Closure of offices is not the end objective.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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