By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The New Hampshire Executive Council agreed to a number of contracts Wednesday to help those facing homelessness or to improve housing stability.
Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, asked about funding for the homeless and an unintended budget shortfall in the current biennium, which did not make it into the current budget negotiations.
“It is impacting shelters in every one of our districts,” Warmington told fellow councilors.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the way the current budget was formatted, more money was spent in the first year of the biennium and less in the second, and that it meant an $800,000 short over the biennium that could impact the next biennium.
Warmington urged councilors to reach out to their legislators to make sure that the gap is covered in the next budget.
Gov. Chris Sununu said even if they don’t fill it, there will be dollars from other sources including one-time AARP money and there is $185 million in federal dollars that are unused.
“It all comes down to flexibility” from Washington, Sununu said.
He said just last year, homeless shelters across the state received $15 million in CARES Act funds related to the pandemic.
The council on Wednesday granted a sole-source amendment to an existing contract with Waypoint, formerly Child and Family Services of Manchester for the continued provision of the State Grant in Aid Homeless Assistance program and Runaway Youth Services, by exercising a contract renewal option, increasing the total price by $477,404 and by extending the completion date for two years.
It further authorized a retroactive sole source amendment to an existing contract with Waypoint for the continued provision of Runaway Youth Services to add additional federal funds by $150,000.
Also approved was an amendment to an existing contract with Southern NH Services of Manchester to continue providing Child Care Resource and Referral Services, by exercising a contract renewal option, by increasing the price by $1,360,000, and by extending the completion date by a year.
Granite United Way of Manchester also received an amendment to its existing contract to continue to operate a hotline for those experiencing housing instability or homelessness, by exercising a contract renewal option by two years and increasing the price limitation by $200,000.
In the North Country, another amendment to an existing contract was approved for the Tri-County Community Action Program of Berlin to continue to provide services to homeless individuals with serious mental illness through the Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness program. The council approved exercising a contract renewal option by two years and increasing the price by $104,744.
The council also agreed to extend legal help to those at risk of experiencing homelessness and those who are homeless by amending an existing sole-source contract with NH Legal Assistance of Concord by increasing the price by $100,000 and extending the completion date from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2023.
Overview of MCOs
The state’s Medicaid managed care organization contracts are now being reviewed by not only the Attorney General’s Office but by the Executive Councilors following a Wall Street Journal article that indicated some states may be overpaying contractors, including the state’s current contractors.
New Hampshire’s Medicaid Director Henry Lipman was pressed by Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, on a review of contracts, particularly for drug-related costs.
Lipman said he has been in contact with the Ohio state Medicaid director, the Mississippi Medicaid director, officials in Washington, D.C., and reached out to his counterparts in Arkansas and New Mexico who are “taking it very seriously,” he said of the overcharging issues brought up in the article.
Shibinette said the state looked at its exposure this winter, prior to the article, and found there was little exposure.
Gatsas said it is a very large contract and while the department may have been aware of the potential concern, it was not information brought forward to the council.
Two weeks ago, Sununu directed the attorney general to review contractors related to Medicaid. The names of the companies mentioned during the discussion were Centine and Express Scripts.
Gatsas expressed concern that the state was not asking enough for lower rates.
Sununu defended the department and the MCO contracts.
“We have been negotiating lower rates,” Sununu said, and the state has been able to strike such deals that it has among the lowest corporate profit margins that are allowed in the country. “I am very proud of that.”
He encouraged councilors to write their questions down and submit them to Lipman and Shibinette to allow for a broader discussion going forward.
Turnpike Tolling Contract
Despite some concerns from the public and the state for some of its past services, the council confirmed an increase and renewal extension to Cubic Transportation Systems of San Diego to handle bill processing of the video tolling. It’s a $52 million contract now extended through June 2024.
Only about 7 percent of all drivers go through the EZ pass lane without a transponder, and they get a bill in the mail once the video processes the license plate.
Those who don’t pay immediately sometimes face exorbitant penalty fees, councilors said, expressing concern on behalf of constituents.
Those with transponders get a discount and those who don’t pay more.
Victoria Sheehan, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, acknowledged that the vendor has had problems in the past meeting the terms of the contract but they “owned it” and while they at times struggled, “they got through it, eventually.”
Confirmations and Nominations
The council confirmed a new state fire marshal. Sean Toomey of Warner was nominated to the vacant position at a rate of pay of $112,255 for a term that expires in March 2024.
Currently, he has served as deputy state fire marshal since 2017 and was once deputy fire chief of the Concord Fire Department.
Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, said he met with Toomey recently and he was impressed with his temperament and approach to the position.
Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Union, listed Toomey’s extensive education and experience. He called it one of the most important appointments in state government.
Kenney noted that he toured much of his district this week with Toomey and met with many fire chiefs. “He will be challenged,” he said, “But he will do the job well.”
The council also confirmed Justin Cutting as the new director of the Division of Fire Standards and Training and Emergency Medical Services, succeeding Deborah Pendergast of Gilford.
“He will hit the ground running,” said Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye.
Dijit Taylor of Hopkinton was also confirmed to another term as director of the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.
Sununu also nominated and the council confirmed Joseph Mollica of Concord for reappointment to the state Liquor Commission at an annual salary of $124,579.
Kenney said Mollica has done an excellent job during the pandemic but noted that Charlie McIntyre, who heads up the lottery, is his competition as to which one makes the state more money next year.
Robert Letourneau of Ashland and Christopher Bean of Concord were approved for the Transportation Appeals Board.
The governor nominated Taylor Caswell for another term as Commissioner of Business and Economic Affairs and the council will take up that and other nominations in two weeks.
Nansen Ski Jump
The council authorized the Division of Parks and Recreation to allow the use of Conservation Plate Funds in partnership with the Nansen Ski Club Inc., Berlin, for $35,000 for the cost-sharing of the re-grading of the historic landing hills at the Nansen Ski Jump site.
A number of contracts were approved to encourage visitors to the state.
The Department of Business and Economic Affairs will authorize the Division of Travel and Tourism Development to enter into a sole-source contract with Granite State Ambassadors Inc., Manchester, for tourism-related training and volunteer coordination, in an amount not to exceed $136,000.
A sole-source contract with the New England State Travel Directors Council Inc., d/b/a Discover New England, Portsmouth was approved for collaborative international marketing, in the amount of $500,000 and a contract was approved with Reach Global Marketing LTD, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for Canadian public relations and trade services, in the amount of $400,000.
Also, a contract with Strategic Marketing & Research Insights LLC, Indianapolis, IN, was inked for research services, in the amount of $500,00 and a $400,000 contract was approved with Lou Hammond and Associates Inc., New York, NY, for domestic public relations.
Tabled was a contract for the Office of Highway Safety to enter into a sole-source contractual agreement with the University of NH, Survey Center, Durham, to conduct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Attitude Survey in the amount of $6,500.
Councilor Wheeler asked about the questions that are being asked on the survey including what church people attend or if they are a member of a union.
Commissioner of Safety Bob Quinn said he would not oppose tabling it until Wheeler’s questions could be answered.
Also tabled was a request from the Office of the Child Advocate to approve a sole-source contract with Fio Partners LLC, Chester, CT, for the purpose of obtaining consulting services to facilitate a strategic planning process that will enable the Office to establish clear and shared priorities that align the capability of the office to its legislative mandate in the amount of $27,000.
Dr. Moira O’Neill, the state child advocate, was not available to answer questions related to why there was no competition for the contract.