The Bulletin Board

Some executive councilors say they’ll oppose contracts with advance payments

By: - August 9, 2021 1:29 pm
Gov. Chris Sununu stands against a black curtain

Gov. Chris Sununu talks during last week’s Executive Council meeting. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Some members of the Executive Council have told the state Department of Health and Human Services they will oppose all future contracts that include advance payments for startup costs. The department said that decision would jeopardize its ability to provide mental health care, support for kids, and other services. 

Prepayments have been included in 39 contracts the council has approved for other state departments over the last two years, according to a list the department provided councilors at their meeting last week.

“We support what you’re doing and what you’re attempting to do for the youth of our state,” Councilor Joe Kenney, a Republican from Union, told the department during last week’s meeting. “But at the same time, we got up, you know, to understand our fiscal responsibilities and our responsibility to taxpayers.”

Councilor Cinde Warmington, a Concord Democrat, said she wasn’t prepared to bar all advance payments but has asked the department to explain to the council its process for negotiating prepayments for vendors. 

“I think they may be appropriate in some circumstances,” she said. “I think the department should definitely have a conversation with the council about how they might expect to use these advance payments in the future and whether there are any parameters around using those payments.”

Joseph Ribsam, director of the department’s Division for Children, Youth, and Families, told councilors that prohibiting some advance money for startup costs will have significant consequences. 

“In my experience, standing up social services across multiple jurisdictions for over a decade, this is common practice,” Ribsam told councilors. “If we stopped doing this work now, because of insistence upon something like this, it’s going to prevent us from actually doing what needs to be done to keep our kids safe.”

Gov. Chris Sununu also pushed back against prohibiting all advance payments as proposed by Republican Councilors Ted Gatsas of Manchester and David Wheeler of Milford. 

“I don’t like handing out money upfront either, but I’ll tell you this is one of the most important initiatives of child protection,” Sununu said of a contract tabled last week over prepayment. “This is the process, and we risk losing new vendors coming into the state. That’s a mistake.”

At a June meeting, Gatsas and Wheeler voted against a $9.3 million contract with Beacon Health Options to create a call center needed to start statewide mobile crisis response teams over a $750,000 prepayment, which represented about 8 percent of the contract. The response teams have been called among the most significant aspects of the state’s efforts to transform its mental health system because they provide immediate community-based care that could spare children and adults long waits in an emergency room for treatment. 

At its meeting last week, the council tabled a $10.9 million contract with Community Solutions to provide multisystemic therapy to at-risk kids intended to keep them out of long-term, out-of-home placements over a $480,661 advance payment equaling about 4.4 percent of contract. 

As they did with the Beacon contract, Gatsas and Wheeler instructed the department to ask Community Solutions to move forward without prepayment. 

“We want nonprofits who get state money to be solvent,” Kenney said. “You tell me (Community Solutions) has a great reputation. A group like that that has a great reputation has an $11 million ask here today. Why can’t they get a line of credit for $500,000 to pay their employees?”

Sununu disagreed, saying that suggestion would cost the state more money if the company passed along the loan’s interest. 

Maura O’Neill, the state child advocate, said the department is reaching out to councilors to provide additional information as needed and answer questions. 

“This is the most evidenced-based program in the country,” she said of the multisystemic therapy. “It saves the state enormous amounts of money and creates a far better positive situation for kids. Very disappointing, but I’m going to assume it’s a matter of not having been informed well enough. We’ll be reaching out to the council to make sure they understand.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.