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More aid
How the state budget could help low-income people

07/06/17
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 Analysts say some of the state’s most economically vulnerable people will benefit from a few items in the 2018-2019 state budget, which the governor signed into law June 28.

 
Welfare ceiling
One of the biggest things that changes in the new budget is how the cap for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly known as welfare, is determined. 
Phil Sletten, policy analyst for New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, said the state previously set the maximum TANF benefits by a specific dollar amount per family size. While there will still be a formula that accounts for family size, the max will now be set at 60 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
For a family of three, that’s about $12,000, an increase from what had been about 39 percent of federal poverty guidelines. 
This change affects fewer than 5,000 people statewide, most of whom are children, according to Sletten.
 
Medicaid services
Woven throughout this budget are increases to Medicaid spending and additional services.
“There are new Medicaid services that are added for mental health, particularly children with complex needs, and additional bed capacities in various health care settings for mental health patients,” Sletten said.
The budget provides for 40 new transitional and community residential beds and 20 additional beds for designated receiving facilities. 
Under the current Medicaid system, the more state dollars spent on programs, the more federal money is matched. That has the potential to change if federal health care legislation alters that relationship, but the state budget assumes no change.
The efficiency budget submitted by the Department of Health and Human Services had requested more money than it ultimately got, according to Sletten, but this budget still represents an increase over the last. 
 
Affordable housing
In the capital budget, which is a separate six-year budget that’s updated every two years, about $2.5 million was bonded toward the state’s affordable housing fund.
Housing Action NH is a statewide coalition of 80 organizations, and it partnered with the Business and Industry Association and various chambers of commerce to lobby for this allocation, because it is seen as a way to help solve the state’s workforce shortage.
“The workforce shortage is a complex issue, but housing is definitely a component of it,” Housing Action NH Director Elissa Margolin said.
The money will be used to provide under-market-rate loans to developers who can pass on the rental savings to renters so working-class and lower-income individuals can afford housing, something that has become more scarce than ever before in the state. The New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority estimated the state’s vacancy rate for two-bedroom apartments to be a record low of 1.4 percent.
“Right now, there’s virtually no viable rental market near the job centers in New Hampshire,” Margolin said.
While she counts the funding as a win and is optimistic for the future, she said the state still lags behind others in the region when it comes to affordable housing investments. By contrast, Vermont bonded $35 million and Rhode Island bonded $50 million to their respective affordable housing funds.
 
Provider rates
The new budget is allowing for an increase of “up to five percent” for the wages and compensation rates of certain direct service providers. Sletten said certain residential providers for the Division of Children, Youth and Families, as well as services for foster care, elderly non-Medicaid, case management, public guardianship, early intervention services and more will see increases.
The increase to rates given to foster parents was added at the last minute during executive session, Sletten said. Foster care rates haven’t gone up in a decade, according to advocates with Child and Family Services. 
“One of the things that some members of the legislature wanted to do is ensure that provider rate increases were granted specifically to those groups of providers that had not been granted rate increases for several years,” Sletten said.
 
Education
Advocates say the availability of public full-day kindergarten helps parents find and hold down jobs with schedules that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to manage if their kids are in a half-day kindergarten program. Not only will the household potentially have more immediate income as a result, but studies show children with more early education have better economic outcomes later in life.
Meanwhile, increased funding for the state’s community college system to the tune of $7.3 million in additional funds, could also indirectly help the poorer population, according to Sletten. 

 






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