The Bulletin Board

Republicans on Senate Finance vote against aid for homeless shelters

By: - May 24, 2021 6:03 pm
A homeless person sits on the curb in New York City

Homelessness has dramatically increased in New Hampshire, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Getty Images)

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted down a $20 million proposal to aid homeless shelters Monday, stopping an effort that Democrats and the state’s Department of Health and Human Services said was necessary to meet a growing need.  

In a 3-4 vote, the committee declined to pass the measure, presented as an amendment to the state budget by Sens. Cindy Rosenwald and Lou D’Allesandro.

The amendment would have added $9.9 million a year over two years to fund housing and shelter programs, including eviction prevention, youth outreach on the streets, and rapid re-housing.

The funds are important because shelters are already underfunded by the state, argued Christine Santaniello, the director of the Division of Economic and Housing Stability at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. 

“Shelters are provided significantly less than what it costs them to keep people safely housed,” Santaniello said. “And so any increase in this line would be much appreciated for the shelters.” 

The committee did approve $3 million in additional funding for the shelters, in an amendment targeted at shelter programs. 

Senate Republicans had initially been in favor of the additional funds, passing a standalone bill, Senate Bill 140, in a 24-0 vote. That bill, which contained $18 million in funding, was laid on the table after passage to clear the way for its inclusion in the budget. 

Republicans on the committee did not comment directly on the measure before voting against it. But in a series of questions directed at the department ahead of the vote, Finance Chairman Gary Daniels, a Milford Republican, noted that the department already had $10 million in the account they were hoping to bolster. 

Homelessness has dramatically increased in New Hampshire, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. An annual report by the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness found that in January 2020, the state’s homeless population had increased by 21% over the previous year. 

COVID-19 has escalated that trend, with incomes stymied and affordable housing hard to come by. A separate report by that same coalition in July 2020 found that shelter officials in six of the seven New Hampshire regions surveyed had seen an increase in homelessness since the onset of the pandemic.

The coalition has estimated that 600 affordable housing units would need to be built to end the crisis entirely. 

The Senate Finance Committee is entering its last days of amendments over the state’s budget, which must be passed by June 3 and sent back to the House for final negotiations. 

On Monday, the Republican-led committee struck down a Democratic proposal to set aside $400,000 to help Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health agencies weather a “gag order” put in place by the Trump administration that is expected to end soon.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.