By GARRY RAYNO, InDeptrhNH.org
CONCORD – After lengthy discussions, the Joint Tax Legislative Committee on Friday approved a federal injection of $ 73 million to hire and retain workers in the home and community service program.
Over three years, the American Rescue Plan Act money is expected to total $ 121.2 million.
The committee also decided not to proceed with a student loan waiver program proposed by the governor’s officer for emergency relief and recovery, although the agency provided additional details and the committee also filed several other items due to confidentiality concerns.
The Home and Community Care program grant will initially enable Choices for Independence providers to recruit additional workers and retain their current employees.
The program provides home help, adult day care, adult foster care, skilled nursing, home help, personal care and mid-level residential services so program participants can stay at their home.
Likewise, the program will also target home service providers of the Developmental Disorders / Acquired Brain Disorders program with 80 percent of the initial funding required to support workforce retention and recruitment.
Overall, the agency intends to use federal funds to invest in the workforce, to improve access to services, and to pilot new services to promote, expand and improve the HCBS.
During the meeting, several members were concerned that while the agency is focused on increasing and retaining workers, it initially did not allocate money to independent case managers.
State Senator Robert Giuda, R-Warren, said case managers work as hard, if not more, than providers. “This is an omission that must be remedied,” he said.
But Associate Health and Human Services Commissioner Christine Santaniello said case managers would be addressed in the second round of funding which is expected between April and the end of the fiscal year in June.
She said there is a huge need for direct support workers who are not earning a living wage today.
Agency officials were reluctant to say how much an increase in the federal subsidy would provide to individual workers, noting that the money would go to suppliers to best determine how to fix the problem.
And other members worried that service providers who contract with the state understand that this is one-time money and won’t continue beyond the federal grant.
“It’s going to end with a general fund obligation when the money runs out,” said Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn. “It will probably be a new bill.”
But Senate Speaker Chuck Morse R-Salem told the committee the need for a single program for people with disabilities was great with around 1,000 people affected by the labor shortage.
“The people in direct services allow people to go to work and keep their jobs every day,” Morse said, and now “they stay home and give up their jobs to do it.”
He noted that the money would be a starting point as there are many areas where the workforce issues need to be addressed. “It is absolutely necessary,” he said.
The committee voted 10-0 to accept the federal money.
The tax committee discussed a $ 16.5 million proposal to set up a pilot program to repay up to $ 20,000 in student loans for recent college graduates who accept employment in New Hampshire and accept to stay four years.
The committee tabled the item at its last meeting, saying members needed information on the program, which they received, but put the plan back on the table on Friday.
Giuda called the program blatantly unfair, saying many people are paying off student loans voluntarily, when the program would provide an incentive for others who also have loans.
Taylor Caswell, chief of the governor’s office for emergency relief and recovery, said he could not address the issue of fairness.
“This program was created to meet a need in the current state for a (larger) workforce,” he said.
State Senator Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, wanted to know who would follow beneficiaries to make sure they were working in the state or for four years, and Caswell said the Business Finance Authority would follow the participants, which should be around 1,015 people.
“The determining factor is getting and keeping people in employment in New Hampshire,” Caswell said.
Edwards likened the program to a state-run raffle and called it bad policy that sends the wrong message.
The program was put down on a 10-0 vote.
The committee also tabled a federal grant of $ 3.3 million for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Secretary of State to upgrade the state’s data collection system for vital statistics.
The money would speed up data modernization efforts including infrastructure, implement electronic reporting and upgrade the national vital statistics system to better automate data sharing between state and federal agencies.
Several committee members were concerned about the potential sharing of personal information about individuals and wanted to know what was shared with the federal government and whether an individual could refuse to provide the requested information.
“I’m not prepared to support this for any amount of federal money,” Giuda said, “if we’re going to see more privacy breaches from the (federal) government”.
The point was put on a 10-0 vote.
Garry Rayno can be contacted at [email protected]