Constituents advocate for programs they want in state budget

Parents and people with disabilities joined students and survivors of domestic violence Monday in urging New Hampshire House budget writers to support programs that have helped them.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu proposed a $13.1 billion biennial budget last month, launching a process that will include the Democratic House developing its own spending plan to send to the state Senate next month. After holding public hearings around the state, the House Finance Committee got even more input Monday at the Statehouse, where nearly 100 people signed up to speak.

Many advocated for funding for personal care attendants who help elderly residents and people with disabilities live independently. Others pushed for increased state funding to schools in property-poor communities, mobile crisis units for children with mental health conditions, and a program that helps low-income families navigate civil legal issues.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance currently gets $1.2 million per year from the state, but Sununu has proposed cutting that in half. Instead, his budget increases funding for indigent criminal defense and for the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. But Marissa Preston urged lawmakers to restore the legal assistance funding, saying the group was a lifeline after she left an abusive relationship with a man who tried to strangle her.

“When you’ve been abused and controlled, sometimes it’s hard to find your voice,” she said.

Darlene Gildersleeve, of Hopkinton, contrasted the experiences of two of her children who have struggled with mental illness. When her 19-year-old son was suicidal, an adult mobile crisis unit responded within half an hour, stabilizing him and preventing a costly hospitalization. But when her 13-year-old daughter was in crisis, she was taken from school by police to the emergency room because there is no similar mobile team for children.

“It was the most horrifying moment of my life,” she said. “I can’t tell you how traumatizing that was for me and my family.”

Funding for mobile crisis teams for children is included in a separate Senate bill, but advocates also are pushing to have it included in the budget. Gildersleeve’s daughter, Anna Mandh, told the committee she should be able to receive the same services as her brother.

“I don’t appreciate being escorted in the back of a police car from school to the hospital,” she said. “It is embarrassing for my peers to see that and only makes my anxiety worse.”

Galen Spiegler, of Keene, who has cerebral palsy, addressed the committee via a speech-generation device, describing his plans to earn a graduate degree, work in the mental health profession and someday become a loving father.

“The people who come into my home seven days a week are doing more than moving my 120-pound body from point A to point B. They are providing me with the help necessary to live a meaningful, vibrant, productive life,” he said.

Carol Conforti-Adams, who suffered a spinal injury in a car accident, agreed. The help she gets at home allows her to work multiple jobs, she said.

“Respect all of us, people living with disabilities, as individuals who want to contribute,” she said.

Two years ago, when Republicans led both bodies, the House failed to pass a budget for the first time in decades. The Legislature ultimately approved an $11.7 billion plan. Democrats now control both the House and Senate.

Click here to read the full article in the Associated Press.