Michele Merritt & April Mottram: Healthier state budget is needed
April 20, 2021
WITH THE close of National Public Health Week, we would like to reflect on the American Public Health Association’s theme — “Building Bridges to Better Health.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every community across New Hampshire and illuminated how race, place, and income can affect a person’s health, and even survival, in the Granite State. At New Futures and the N.H. Public Health Association, building a bridge to better health means rebuilding from these challenges into a healthier and more equitable state as we enter the beginning of the end of this global pandemic. To do so, we need a strong public health system that extends far beyond addressing the immediate challenges of the pandemic and promotes health equity for every person in every community.
COVID-19 has stretched our public health systems and workers to their limit. Investing in a stronger health system has never been more clearly critical. To rebuild as a more inclusive and just state, we urge our lawmakers to prioritize investment in public health initiatives such as behavioral health prevention; treatment and recovery programs; children’s behavioral health services; and early childhood supports.
The budget passed by the New Hampshire House of Representatives comes up short in meeting the health needs of communities as they attempt to recover from the pandemic.
We are relieved that the governor and state Senate leaders have voiced their concerns with the House budget and we look forward to working beside them to pass a healthier budget that does more to support the health and wellness of all Granite Staters.
As the Senate crafts its budget proposal, we look to their leadership in rebuilding a better state for all. On behalf of public health advocates across the state, we urge senators to overcome critical gaps in the House budget proposal and address the following areas of need:
Funding for Community Health Workers (CHWs) at each of the state’s 13 Public Health Networks. CHWs are front line liaisons between health and social services and the community. As trusted members of their communities, CHWs improve access, quality and cultural competence of services. Research shows that CHWs can effectively improve health outcomes, reduce costs, and bridge disparities. A recent study found that when CHWs addressed the needs of Medicaid recipients, a return of $2.47 was realized for each dollar spent.
Support the Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) for health care workers in underserved areas. These funds represent a critical investment helping to recruit and retain primary, behavioral and other care workers, who ultimately ensure all Granite State residents have access to care.
Fully fund tobacco prevention and cessation through the “My Life, My Quit,” which specializes in adolescent vaping. New Hampshire has seen a rapid increase in electronic nicotine delivery systems or e-cigarette products among high school-age youth. This program will fill a gap in cessation services that have been traditionally focused solely on tobacco use among adults. Tobacco costs the state of New Hampshire $729 million, investing in prevention will reduce these costs and save taxpayer dollars.
Investment in primary prevention like Family Resource Centers and Home Visiting. These proven prevention services play a critical role promoting the wellbeing of families and healthy childhood development. They help families navigate difficult situations. For New Hampshire, primary prevention shows a return of $4 to $6 for every dollar invested by reducing societal costs associated with poor health and academic child protection, K-12 special education, grade retention and criminal justice expenses.
In addition to these critical funding areas, we look to our senators and Governor Chris Sununu to put an end to several harmful provisions included in the House budget that propose to:
Abolish the Enforcement Division of the N.H. Liquor Commission, jeopardizing the safe operation of alcohol establishments.
Ban dissemination of certain “divisive concepts” like unconscious bias related to sex and race that are critical to addressing public health disparities across New Hampshire.
Defund essential health reproductive health care providers during a pandemic.
Eliminate $50 million and 226 positions from the state Department of Health and Human Services in “back of the budget” cuts that could limit our ability to respond to and overcome COVID-19.
Investing in public health shows better health outcomes and lower health spending overall. The return is a New Hampshire whose children, families, adults, and communities are healthy, safe, and resilient now and far into the future.
Please continue to make your voice heard in support of rebuilding a healthier Granite State. To ensure investments in the health and wellness of residents, 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 elected officials understand what is at stake — the health of our families, friends, and neighbors.
Now is the time to prioritize sustained investment in the wellbeing of New Hampshire for a healthier tomorrow.