My Turn: A five-point plan for a healthy state budget
December 19, 2020
By MICHELE MERRITT For the Monitor Published: 12/19/2020
During challenging times like these, the smartest, most enduring investment New Hampshire can make is in the health and wellness of its people. Ensuring the well-being of all Granite Staters will yield profits to our society that are far greater than the price tag.
The return is a New Hampshire whose children, families, adults, and communities are healthy, safe, and resilient now and far into the future.
This coming legislative session our lawmakers will be tasked with developing the next state budget. The budget will cover the next two years, but its impact on the state will last much longer. Proper investments in the health and wellness of the Granite State by the Legislature is the only thing that can help New Hampshire recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing substance use and mental health crises, and begin to undo the harms of systemic racism on our public health system.
The New Hampshire Legislature will have the opportunity to improve the health of the Granite State through investments in the state and local public health programs, the health care workforce, early childhood initiatives, children’s behavioral health, and mental and behavioral health services for all.
While funding these critical programs and services may seem like common-sense solutions, New Hampshire is only beginning to grapple with the budget impacts of COVID-19. Undoubtedly, legislators will face difficult choices to balance the state budget, which could mean unprecedented pressures on health programs and services at a time when these initiatives are more needed than ever. We all must speak up for public health.
In preparation for this budget year when so much is at stake, countless advocates have helped guide our policy priorities via surveys, interviews, and listening sessions. With invaluable insights and perspectives from across the state, we have formed our New Futures’ Five-Point Plan for a Healthy State Budget, which outlines critical investments in five key areas. Collectively, we call on New Hampshire legislators to fund the following areas and programs:
1) Supporting critical local and state public health programs and services. To help New Hampshire recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future health crises, we must sustain and increase funding to the 13 regional public health networks, community health workers, infectious disease response, and an equitable vaccine program to provide essential immunizations to adults at no cost.
2) Ensuring access to health care by supporting a strong health care workforce. To attract and retain health care professionals, which is foundational to providing proper care for all, the state must support the Student Loan Repayment Program for professionals working in underserved areas, increase funding for rural health care centers, and maintaining Medicaid Reimbursement rates.
3) Sustaining investments that help mitigate and prevent childhood trauma to help Granite State children and families thrive. To build on the strength of New Hampshire families, the Legislature must ensure quality and affordable childcare, as well as fund a robust system of family resource centers and home visiting services, which provide essential support to families at home and in their communities.
4) Protecting children’s behavioral health programs and services to ensure coordinated and timely care for Granite State youth. This will require sustaining and increasing investments in the New Hampshire System of Care law, building a mobile crisis system and other community-based services, maintaining funding for services in schools, and ensuring access to emergency residential care as appropriate.
5) Supporting efforts to sustain and grow behavioral health services. To ensure proper services for those with mental health and substance use disorders, New Hampshire must fully finance the Alcohol Fund and Medicaid expansion, reallocate revenue from addictive products to evidence-based prevention programs and secure the sustainability and solvency of treatment and recovery programs.
Budget funding for these five initiatives will go far to help New Hampshire overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, continue our progress against the ongoing substance use and mental health crises, improve racial health disparities for historically marginalized groups, and ensure the health of all Granite Staters now and into the future. To ensure these investments in the health of our state, we urge you to get involved – call your lawmakers, engage in the legislative process, and make our voices heard. Together, we can ensure that our legislators understand what is at stake – the health of our families, friends, and neighbors. Now is the time to prioritize sustained investment in public health for a healthier tomorrow.
(Michele Merritt is the president and CEO of New Futures, a health policy and advocacy organization. For more on the Five-Point Plan for a Healthy State Budget and how you can advocate for these policies, visit: new-futures.org/2021-granite-state-health-and-wellness-campaign.)