By GAIL OBER, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The Executive Council has green-lighted a program for Medicaid recipients to learn about mandatory work requirements, awarded about a five-percent step increase to a number of high-ranking state employees, and approved some changes to the contract for psychiatric services at the New Hampshire Hospital.
At its meeting Wednesday, the Executive Council approved a contract with MAXIMUS Health Services, Inc., a Virginia company, for an outreach program to educate Medicaid health insurance recipients on the new 100-hour monthly work requirement. The state will spend about $10,000 to get $80,000 from the federal government for the program.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers told the Council the outreach program is “critical” to ensuring the nearly 51,000 state residents who are Medicaid-eligible through the Medicaid Expansion Program are aware of the work requirement. They also need to understand the circumstances that could waive the requirement.
Meyers emphasized that only “able-bodied” recipients would need to meet the requirement, and a recipient could be exempted because he or she is disabled, caring for a child under age 6, is medically frail, pregnant or for other reasons.
When asked, Meyers said he doesn’t know how many of the 51,000 recipients would qualify for an exemption but said it could be as few as 5,000 and as many as 15,000. He added that if the state doesn’t do the outreach program, it will never know.
Meyers said the program, which will be coordinated through the Department of Employment Services and NH Works, will try to make sure recipients don’t lose insurance coverage because they are unaware of the work requirements. The outreach begins in March and the work requirement becomes effective in June.
The Council unanimously approved an amendment to the state contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Services to realign personnel who provide psychiatric services to the New Hampshire Hospital to better fit the mental health needs of those being served.
“Our partnership with Dartmouth has been great,” said Meyers, adding the key changes include a shift toward getting “more people into long-lasting sustainable discharge.” He said the state is working toward renewing the contract that expires on June 30.
The council also approved about a five-percent step increase for 27 non-classified employees who are typically earning $100,000 per year or more. Included in this group was Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, whose salary increased from $102,949 to $109,305. Edelblut was the only commissioner who was given a raise. Democrats Debora Pignatelli of Nashua and Andru Volinsky of Concord opposed it. The remainder of the pay hikes passed unanimously.
Gov. Sununu assured the councilors that all those who received raises had the approval of their respective department’s commissioners. Sununu added that he, as Edelblut’s supervisor, is very satisfied with his performance.
The council voted to accept and expend a federal grant for $104,215 to purchase software and hire an employee to track rape kits. Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said his agency has reached out to local police departments and the New Hampshire Association of Police Chiefs for updates on untested rape kits.
MacDonald told that council that while New Hampshire doesn’t seem to have the problems with keeping, testing and tracking the kits that other states have reported, this is a proactive approach to make sure there are no backlog issues going forward.
An added service, said MacDonald, will allow victims of sexual assault to track their cases through the software system, which will add transparency and keep the state current with recent legislation.
Councilors also approved a transfer of $6,480,000 from the highway surplus account to fund winter maintenance. Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan said the maintenance account is 40 percent expended with only about one-third of the season in the rear-view mirror.
The money will pay for salt, outside contractors and overtime. Sheehan said if it is not spent, the money lapses into the Highway Fund.
“This is looking like an average winter,” Sheehan said, noting that until Wednesday, there had been a lull in storm activity. She said the earlier part of the winter maintenance season was slightly busier than usual.
Gov. Sununu and the Executive Councilors were also briefed Wednesday by representatives from the Department of Environmental Services about the Drinking Water and Ground Water Trust Fund and their role in approving the projects.
After spending much of 2017 and 2018 establishing the fund administration and an oversight commission, and soliciting local projects from all over New Hampshire, a new round of efforts is ready for council approval.
Some of the upcoming projects include a water storage tank in Atkinson and $1.6 million to replace lead piping in some school districts.
The Executive Council is made up of five regionally elected members who act as “citizen representatives” to the Executive Branch, according to the official State of New Hampshire website. The council cannot act independently but can negate the actions or nominations of the governor. It approves all contracts entered into by the state greater than $25,000 and acts as a watchdog to the state treasury. All budgetary transfers within departments and personal service contracts $10,000 or more need the Executive Council’s approval. (The only governor who recommended abolishing it was U.S. President Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, but his wishes were voted down by the citizenry by a three-to-one margin.)
The Executive Council has three members from the Democratic party and two members who are Republicans.
District 1, or the “North Country,” councilor is Michael J. Cryans, a Hanover Democrat. He defeated Joe Kenney of Wakefield and is the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1981, when Bath Republican Raymond S. “Ray” Burton was elected to his second, non-consecutive term.
District 2, which is roughly the center-southwestern part of New Hampshire, is represented by Andru Volinky of East Concord. Volinsky is serving his second term and recently defeated Republican candidate James Beard. An attorney by profession, he and his wife raise chickens and alpacas.
Republican Russell Prescott of Kingston represents District 3, or the “Seacoast,” which includes the southeastern portion of New Hampshire. Coming from a manufacturing and engineering background, Prescott recently restored his 1737 Colonial home, a barn and a grist mill. He is in his second term and defeated Democrat Joe Pace.
District 4 is represented by former four-term Manchester mayor, Ted Gatsas, a Republican, who defeated Democrat Gray Chynoweth for his first term as an Executive Councilor. This seat was previously held by District 1 N.H. Rep. Chris Pappas, a Manchester Democrat.
Democrat Debora Pignatelli of Nashua represents District 5, or the southern Central portion of the state, in her fifth non-consecutive term. The former executive director of the Nashua Girl’s Club and director of the Nashua Housing Authority, Pignatelli defeated former Republican incumbent David Wheeler.
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