Economy

Republican Budget Cuts In New Hampshire Provoke Backlash From Clergy

CREDIT: Carl Gibson via Instagram

Parents of addiction victims join a die-in at the state capitol to protest massive cuts to addiction treatment programs.

Republican state legislators in New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first official presidential primary, have rolled out a budget proposal that New Hampshire Voices for Faith — a coalition of interfaith leaders representing various religions and Christian denominations — are calling “immoral.” The coalition is protesting the steep cuts to crucial programs at the state capitol on Wednesday, the day of the House’s vote, invoking the Moral Mondays movement that has mobilized hundreds of faith leaders and concerned community members against similarly devastating state budgets in the South.

“This budget demands more from the most vulnerable than from the wealthiest,” said Reverend Jason Wells, priest of Grace Episcopal Church in Concord, the state capital. “In New Hampshire, the gap between the rich and poor is growing wider, faster.”

Faith leaders have scheduled a prayer breakfast and vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord before demonstrators head to the state house as lawmakers debate the budget in the House of Representatives.

The budget that the Republican-controlled House Finance Committee recently approved makes sweeping cuts to state agencies that provide services to the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, and the working poor. Their budget also discontinues New Hampshire’s expansion of Medicaid, resulting in 65 lost jobs at the Department of Health and Human Services, and 37,000 people who will be unable to have affordable access to healthcare.

The Republican budget would cut approximately $240 million from the biennial budget proposed by Governor Maggie Hassan, which one public sector union leader said is “already lean to the bone.” Richard Gulla, president of SEA/SEIU Local 1984, told ThinkProgress the budget cuts will disproportionately affect low-income taxpayers.

“The need for basic services, such as plowing our roads or caring for our elderly, will not disappear with the state funding. Instead, the state’s responsibilities will be downshifted to towns and municipalities,” Gulla said. “Ultimately, the state’s property taxpayers will shoulder the costs – again.”

As they slash the budgets for these vulnerable populations, the Republicans that control New Hampshire’s legislature are aiming to cut corporate taxes by $190 million. House Bill 386 would lower New Hampshire’s business profits tax from 8.5 to 7 percent, resulting in a $120 million loss each biennium. Senate Bills 1 and 2 would cut New Hampshire’s business enterprise tax and business profits tax by another $70 million each biennium.

“Some people want to spend money on tax cuts for the uber-wealthy, but is that really the best use of our money?” Reverend Jonathan Hopkins, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church and president of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, told ThinkProgress. “We’re already a state that doesn’t hardly pay any taxes for anything. It’s mind-boggling.”

Wednesday’s protest echoes the faith-based Moral Mondays movement that has pushed similar messages in North Carolina and Georgia. Rev. William Barber, who helmed Moral Mondays in North Carolina, recently spoke with New Hampshire’s Arnie Alpert of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), one of the organizers of the protest, about how to transplant the faith-based social justice movement in the North. “Let’s build these state movements because the most egregious things that are happening in this country right now are happening in state houses,” Barber said.

House Republicans funded social services for the elderly, like meals on wheels, caregiver support, and transportation at a level $10.5 million lower than what Gov. Hassan proposed. The Republican budget would also cut aid for the developmentally-disabled by $26 million, which would result in an additional $26 million cut from matching federal funds. Mickey Natoli, a retired teacher from Salem, New Hampshire, told ThinkProgress his 24-year-old daughter Brianna, who is developmentally-delayed, has cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder, and is hearing-impaired, depends on those funds.

“She is an active member of our community,” Natoli said. “She attends night school, participates in a theater group and Special Olympics, and also volunteers at a soup kitchen and at a food pantry. If the $52 million were to be cut, all of this would end for Brianna and it would be a drastic change to her life and to our family.”

House Republicans have even gone after domestic violence victims, approving cuts last week to emergency domestic violence shelters by 50 percent. Concord city councilor Amanda Grady-Sexton, who also serves as public policy director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said that since 2012, when Republican Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien cut off the state’s matching funds that New Hampshire’s shelters have depended on since 1994, advocates have been struggling with funding cuts. Now, there is just $277,000 divided amongst the 12 shelters that help battered women in New Hampshire. Grady-Sexton said last year, 1100 battered women were denied emergency shelter due to funding cuts.

“Every single crisis center has laid off staff, and satellite offices have closed. Each single advocate now serves around 300 people across New Hampshire,” Grady-Sexton said. “This is a problem, because in the state and around the nation, approximately 50 percent of homicides are domestic violence-related, and 92 percent of murder suicides are domestic violence-related.”

The House Republican budget also cut New Hampshire’s homeless shelters by 50 percent, or $4 million. According to Housing Action NH, a nonpartisan advocacy group, New Hampshire’s homeless shelters have served 10,000 people in the last biennium, including 1,749 children. Housing Action’s member shelters say that the cuts will leave them no choice but to turn away more homeless families, veterans, seniors, and disabled, as most of their shelters constantly operate at full capacity. The legislature also proposed cutting a new, ten-bed crisis center for those undergoing mental health crises set to open at New Hampshire Hospital on July 1.

“This weekend, twelve adults and fifteen children who are in a mental health crisis were boarded in emergency departments throughout our state waiting for treatment,” said Kenneth Norton, executive director of NAMI New Hampshire. “What does the future hold for a child held in an emergency department for days waiting for treatment? How frightening and traumatic for them and their families!”

On Wednesday, New Hampshire Voices for Faith is calling for a “humane budget” that would protect the neediest residents.

“We have a collective responsibility to one another, a collective need to help all those who are vulnerable,” said Reverend Hopkins. “In God’s eyes, we are all the same.”

Carl Gibson is an independent journalist and activist. He co-founded anti-austerity group US Uncut in 2011 and is featured in the Sundance-selected documentary "We're Not Broke." He has been published in Salon, Washington Post, and Occupy.com. Follow him on Twitter at @uncutCG.