By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
LACONIA — Direct support professionals who care for the state’s developmentally disabled people packed a legislative hearing Monday night to ask for more state funding to support the work they do.
Wearing pink T-shirts reading “People Can’t Wait,” the professionals, families who rely on their support and other health-care professionals told members of the House Finance Committee that the lack of good wages is creating a crisis with fewer workers to do the job.
“We are hemorrhaging experienced staff,” said Donald Harris, a long-time direct-support professional. “The workforce is getting smaller and smaller. Eventually, there is not going to be enough staff to keep this industry viable,” he said. “But the clients are still going to be there.”
Harris said he has capped out at a rate of $14.72 an hour, but it is not enough to keep up with the growing cost of living.
“Many people see this as a calling,” he said. “But I have responsibilities and commitments like everyone else.”
“We are beyond a crisis in the workforce issue in New Hampshire,” said Becky Bryant, chief executive officer of Lakes Region Community Services, which is based in Laconia.
Bryant said there are 300 job openings statewide for direct service professionals and turnover rates are as high as 30 percent in some of the 10 regional programs.
She has workers who exceed more than 90 hours a week, and that is not sustainable, Bryant said.
Looking out at a sea of pink T-shirts in the room at Lakes Region Community College, she told legislators: “They are working emotionally and physically demanding jobs.”
The meeting was one of two field hearings on House Bill 1 on Monday. The other hearing was in Milford at the Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley.
In addition to concern for adequate funding in the Health and Human Services categories, there were other concerns expressed.
Berlin residents attended to talk about adequacy funding for public education.
Corinne Cascadden, superintendent of Berlin Public Schools, said she came south because the Laconia hearing was the farthest north that a public hearing on the budget was held.
Cascadden, who recently announced she is stepping down this spring, spoke about the disparity between poor and rich communities.
Cascadden said 68 percent of the Berlin’s base is tax-exempt, leaving the other 32 percent to pay.
“How can we offer the same … as someone in a property-rich community?” Cascadden asked.
The state has “a revenue problem. We need to solve this education crisis,” Cascadden said.
“You need to shake and rattle and move,” she told legislators.
Gregg Pitman of Holderness, representing the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association, said tourism is an important economic driver. He said 3.15 percent of rooms and meals tax needs to be maintained for tourism promotion.
State Rep. Harry Bean, R-Gilford, said he was speaking to support victims of Financial Resources Mortgage, an illegal Ponzi scheme that was based in the Lakes Region. There is $10 million in the governor’s budget to help those victims, he said.
“Leave it in the budget,” Bean said.
Another hearing on the state’s budget will be held in Concord before the whole House Finance Committee on March 18 at 1 p.m. in Representatives Hall.