Early in 2011, when Governor John Lynch released his budget proposal for the two years that begin July 1, he cut the line item for NH Legal Services by 5%. The agency, which provides crucial assistance in civil legal matters to poor residents of the state, would get just under $1.4 million in state funds.
Then the House went at the governor’s budget with an axe. By the time they were done, the legal services appropriation was gone altogether. Other programs benefiting poor, disabled, and mentally ill residents were deeply slashed. Funding for higher education, cultural programs, and public television likewise saw deep cuts.
Human service advocates, marching under the banner, “New Hampshire Can Do Better,” called on the Senate to throw out the House budget and start over. The more compassionate Senate, to its credit, did give the budget a close re-examination. When it came to legal services, they voted to restore $700,000, half the amount the House cut from the already reduced budget.
That was just one of the differences between the House and Senate budgets that the two chambers appointed a Committee of Conference to resolve. The five Representatives and three Senators are supposed to complete their work by Thursday, June 16, in order to meet legislative deadlines and get a budget to the Governor in time for him to sign and put into effect by July 1. They are going through the budget, line by line.
A friend told me today she will lose her job when the state closes all 14 clinics for people with sexually transmitted diseases on July 1. Another friend says 1100 families will get kicked off TANF when the Department of Health and Human Services changes eligibility rules to save money. More than 250 two-parent families are likely to lose cash assistance for families in which both parents are unemployed or under-employed.
Today, House members of the conference committee agreed to the Senate’s line item on legal services, i.e. a cut of more than 50% from current levels. In this legislative session, supporters of New Hampshire’s shredded safety net will probably call that a victory.
And that’s sad. Maybe we’re all numbed or stunned, but the outrage at the House budget, expressed by the 5000 people who rallied on the State House lawn March 31, is not much in sight.