Vermont Youth May Be Housed at Sununu Center

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Sununu Youth Services Center campus in Manchester,

By  GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD — State officials are negotiating with Vermont to house some of their children at the Sununu Youth Services Center for youths the court determines are delinquent.

At the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee meeting Friday, state Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, asked Division for Children, Youth and Families director Joseph Ribsam if Vermont children were being housed at the center.

Ribsam said the two states are currently in negotiations, but Vermont children are not currently being housed at the center.

A Vermont youth was at the center last summer until his 18th birthday to help out the neighboring state, he said, but no out-of-state children are at the center now.

Rosenwald said she heard the state will receive about $1,500 a day for a Vermont child and wondered if the contract would go to the Governor and Executive Council for approval and where the proceeds from the contract would go.

Ribsam said he was hesitant to say too much because negotiations are ongoing but said the figure she quoted is close and, when finalized, the contract would go before both the Executive Council and the Fiscal Committee.

Ribsam said if the center begins accepting Vermont children future information to lawmakers would break out the number of in-state and out-of-state children at the center.

The center was built with federal funds, but has not had the resident population anticipated when it was built.

Instead attempts have been made to make it a specialized facility  to treat various ailments including youth substance addiction, and other attempts have been made to defund and close the facility.

However, none have been successful over the long term as the center continues to operate in Manchester off River Road.

The Fiscal Committee was asked to approve transfers within the division to cover a shortfall in the center’s staffing budget due to overtime and the need for additional personnel.

Rosenwald asked if those expenses were COVID-19 related and, if they were, could federal CARES Act money be used to cover the deficit. The state received $1.25 billion in CARES Act money from the federal government.

Ribsam said the pandemic required additional space at the center to allow for social distancing and to set up a separate quarantine unit.

That resulted in the need for more staff time, he said, noting it is related to the coronavirus, and he has been discussing the situation with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Relief and Recovery, which oversees the distribution of the CARES Act money.

They are working to “break out” the staff coverage in ways acceptable under the federal grant, Ribsam said, noting that staff works in different places as needed not just in the quarantine unit, so it becomes a little more complicated.

The committee approved the transfer of funds to cover the shortfall in staff expenses at the center.

The committee also approved additional funding for the Attorney General’s Office for ongoing investigations and litigations by using $588,434 Consumer Division escrow funds, and $1.84 million in general funds.

The money will be used to fund the ongoing investigation of past incidents at the Youth Detention Center, several hospital mergers, ongoing criminal and civil litigation including two voting restriction laws, and related expenses.

The money from the escrow account is earmarked for the hospital mergers.

The meeting was the last for the current Fiscal Committee members as a new committee will be appointed after the Legislature organizes Dec. 2 and chooses its leadership.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

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