N.H. budget writers hear personal pleas from public on health care, school funding

  • Berlin High School sophomores Brooklyn Goodwin and Elijah Pinette appeared with superintendent Corinne Cascadden to advocate for higher state school funding in the budget, after Berlin has struggled in recent years. Ethan DeWitt—Monitor staff

  • Marissa Preston, a North Country domestic violence survivor who came to the State House to advocate for higher funding for N. H. Legal assistance, who helped her obtain a restraining order. Ethan DeWitt—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/18/2019 6:00:40 PM

Marissa Preston was looking for an exit door, not a spotlight. But in her escape from the man who abused her for five years, she found both.

It started with a moment of terror, when Preston’s abuser – her boyfriend as well as her boss – attempted to strangle her last August, according to Preston. At the time, she only wanted protection, for herself and her children. So she called the police. She did not know what the rest would bring.

Preston found support from Voices Against Violence, a crisis services agency, and an attorney from New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA). Eventually, she said she secured a major source of relief: a permanent restraining order.

“I just went for help,” the North Country resident told lawmakers on Monday, at times pausing to collect herself. “That’s it. I didn’t realize what would happen next. The amount of legal court costs, repeating my story endlessly, for months on end it seems.”

Her ex-boyfriend is awaiting trial on domestic violence charges, Preston said. It’s been a year of interviews and motions and courtrooms.

On Monday, Preston told her story again, this time at a packed hearing held by the House Finance Committee to let members of the public weigh in on the budget. 

Her plea: that lawmakers continue to fund New Hampshire Legal Assistance at the full amount they did two years ago, despite Gov. Chris Sununu’s recommendation that the organization’s state funding be halved.

Preston was one of hundreds of citizens who turned up at Monday’s hearing, many with personal anecdotes and pointed requests for continued or increased funding. Over a multi-hour event, speakers took to microphones to stress their priorities, from health care to home care support to education funding.

The House’s three finance committees are presently taking up the governor’s recommended budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021; the House has until April 11 to make amendments and pass it over to the Senate.

Swathes of the crowd wore bright pink scarves to urge funding for to eliminate the waitlist for state developmental disability services, an area that Sununu has proposed fully funding.

A pair of students from Berlin High School showed off “Save Our Schools” T-shirts, joining their school superintendent Corinne Cascadden to ask lawmakers improve the school adequacy formula before the property-poor town has to cut one of its schools.

And many speakers pleaded with legislators to increase New Hampshire’s Medicaid reimbursement rate, which affects how much many providers and health care employees are paid. The Granite State has some of the lowest rates in the country; most haven’t been updated since 2006.

For Nancy Kelleher, of Goffstown, raising the rates is not an abstract concern. In 2015, Kelleher’s daughter was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It was a devastating diagnosis: suddenly, her daughter, who has Down’s Syndrome and is now 27, needed constant help to eat and take care of herself. Her heart was reduced to 20 percent of its capacity; the condition is eventually terminal.

With the girl’s father absent, Kelleher needed professional home care help. She turned to a Medicaid program allowing for a home and community-based care staff-person. But with low rates, that program can only pay so well, and Kelleher says it’s squeezing the quality of her daughter’s care.

“She’s had a huge life change,” Kelleher said of her daughter. “And I can’t pay her staff.”




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