- Associated Press - Monday, March 13, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Pleas for further investments in health care, from substance abuse treatment to services for people with developmental disabilities, dominated a Monday public hearing on the state’s next budget.

“My wife and I worry about Liam’s future as he gets closer to age 21,” said Will Walker, of Hollis, referencing his 17-year-old son with autism. “If funds are cut, how will Liam be able to continue to receive services that allow him to live a full and meaningful life?”

Walker was one of dozens of people to testify before House lawmakers during an hours-long public hearing.

The House is amending Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s $12.1 billion budget proposal. Sununu’s plan includes roughly $57 million more for services for people with developmental disabilities, like Liam, and about $3 million more for the state’s alcohol fund, dedicated to prevention, treatment and recovery services. Requests for lawmakers to maintain or increase funding in those areas, as well as for mental health services, dominated the public hearing.

Adults with developmental disabilities such as autism and acquired brain disorders can receive services paid for by the state such as in-home care and community support. But there’s a waiting list for services, and advocates have long deemed the system underfunded. Walker said services covered by the state can help people like Liam be a part of the community.

“Liam is learning appropriate social skills, but also members of the community are growing to understand and accept and support Liam and others like him,” Walker testified.

Jeanne Dietsch, a member of the Peterborough Economic Development Authority, said providing more money for substance abuse prevention and treatment is critical to making New Hampshire an attractive place for businesses. Some business leaders have said it’s difficult to find skilled workers who can pass a drug test.

Another resident called for more money for rape and sexual assault crisis centers, which are seeing a funding reduction in Sununu’s budget. The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence is asking lawmakers for $500,000 annually.

“I would love to come before you and say we don’t need any money,” said Marianne Jackson. “Wouldn’t it be great if there was no more sexual assault and we could just close our doors? But that just isn’t the case.”

The House must pass its version of the budget in April, when senators will then begin working on the spending document. A final plan must be signed by the end of June.

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This story has been corrected to show the public hearing was Monday, not Tuesday.

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