Gubernatorial Candidate Joyce Craig Discusses Her Plan to Help New Hampshire’s Children

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Christy Gleason, Vice President of Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns and Executive Director of Save the Children Action Network moderated the discussion, where Joyce Craig drew upon her three terms as Mayor of Manchester.

The Save the Children Action Network hosted its fourth and final forum with Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Mayor of Manchester, Joyce Craig at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics of Saint Anselm College.

 As with the previous three forums, Christy Gleason, Vice President of Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns and Executive Director of Save the Children Action Network moderated the discussion, where Craig drew upon her three terms as Mayor of Manchester in her answers about the childcare system, education, mental health, and food security.

“Kids are on the ballot, whether you know it or not,” Gleason said to introduce the discussion. “Kids don’t have to be voters to be central and important to the race.”

As with the other candidates, Gleason opened by asking how Craig would “ensure all children are given the right start” and prioritize them in her first budget as governor.

“I believe that every student, no matter where they live in our state, should have access to quality public education,” Craig answered. She said that her children were the reason she got involved in public service; she was motivated to run for school board after volunteering in her kids’ schools and seeing issues she wanted to fix, she said.

“We need to fund public education in this state,” Craig said. “Right now, we are not.”

A part of Craig’s public education initiative would be statewide Pre-K, she said. She emphasized the importance of early childhood education—which was immediately met with applause from an individual in the crowd.

She also cited her work to launch Manchester Promise, partnered with Southern New Hampshire University and Manchester Community College, which provided 60 students in the city debt-free college.

“These are things we can learn from at a statewide level,” Craig said.

One of the top issues for families in the state is childcare, whose system is suffering in New Hampshire. Gleason asked Craig how she would support “robust, high quality early learning” as childcare providers struggle with revenue from tuition and scholarships that “don’t reflect the true cost of providing high quality care.”

Craig turned to the scholarship component, saying she witnessed at a local level how parents struggled with the application process for early education scholarships. Craig hopes to expand scholarship programs in the future.

Gleason continued discussing the childcare issue with Craig, moving to solutions for the providers themselves, who she said earned a median hourly wage of less than $13 per hour in 2022—far off the state’s overall median hourly wage of $23 per hour.

Craig took issue with the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which she called “not livable.” In Manchester, Craig said she upped that to $15 per hour for city and district employees, which in turn increased the number of qualified individuals applying to jobs.

“We need to pay individuals a livable wage who are providing these essential services,” Craig said.

Craig also hoped to decrease the cost for childcare centers through property tax incentives and certification incentives.

Gleason brought up the state’s “childcare desert,” stating that roughly half of New Hampshire is experiencing a deficit of around 7,200 spots for children in need of early childhood education. She pointed out how this is not only an issue impacting families, but the state’s economy as well. As parents have to miss work shifts or leave the workforce entirely, she said, the state’s economic health is expected to take a hard hit in the next decade.

Craig said she had heard the deficit was especially prominent in the North Country; but there’s also hope to be found up north. Craig praised a greenhouse being constructed in Berlin which is installing on-site daycare for employees—an effort she thinks should be replicated throughout the state. Communities and the state government need to work together to do so, she said.

“We’ve got to close the gap,” Craig said. “Right now, there’s not a lot of work between local communities and the state to address these challenging issues when it comes to childcare, when it comes to housing, and other economic issues that are affecting our families. That’s something I look forward to focusing on.”

Focusing on the rural parts of the state, Gleason asked Craig how she saw the challenges faced by children in rural areas as similar or different to those of children living in other parts of the state.

“Generally speaking, they’re the same,” Craig said. In all parts of the state, she said, children are facing a lack of childcare resources and slots and challenges with public education. But she pointed out those issues look different in rural communities, which are dealing with transportation challenges to and from schools.

Gleason asked Craig to address the mental health crisis as well, which she stated is severely impacting young women and minority female populations, including girls of color, transgender girls, and other young women who identify as LGBTQ+.

Like childcare, Craig said there is a workforce shortage of mental health professionals in the state, as well as beds in facilities that treat youth experiencing a mental health issue.

“Parents and children shouldn’t be waiting months to speak to someone when they are in a mental health crisis,” Craig said.

She looked again to her work in Manchester, where she turned to the Manchester Mental Health Center to bring resources into public schools—something she hopes to do statewide as governor.

Gleason directed Craig’s attention to the and Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Program to discuss food security. Gleason explained Summer EBT provides $40 per week to low-income families with school-aged children when schools are closed for the summer. While the federal program provides the funding, she said, states have to administer it and cover the administrative costs. Some states have opted out of the program, Gleason said, but New Hampshire will be participating, and she wanted to know how Craig would approach its implementation.

Craig was quick to say she’d continue the state’s participation in the food program.

“We have to make sure that our kids are fed,” Craig said. “Our children cannot learn if they are hungry.”

On top of that, Craig wants low-income families to also have access to healthy foods. In Manchester, which Craig said is home to several food deserts, she worked to put healthy foods in small corner stores that were more accessible in poorer neighborhoods.

“We need to make sure our children and our families have access to healthy foods,” Craig said.

Gleason also brought up the Community Eligibility Program, a federal program that provides free meals to all students in eligible schools with high poverty rates; 90 schools in New Hampshire qualify, she said, however only two participate.

In order to get those schools to participate, Craig said, there needs to be a system change to streamline the process for families and schools.

Similarly, Gleason said that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the “first line of defense in fighting child hunger”; however, family participation is low in New Hampshire. New Hampshire’s SNAP participation rate, of those eligible in state, Gleason said, is only 31%.

Again, Craig pointed to her work as mayor. In Manchester, she brought in community health workers to connect families to community health services like SNAP—an initiative she thinks will be particularly effective in statewide implementation.

Gleason asked Craig how her experience as a mayor impacts her perspective of the job of governor.

“I had to get things done,” she said simply. Craig confidently said that experience will translate well to getting things done as governor and in collaborating with mayors across the state to do so. 

 “I want to create opportunities for our families and better support our communities,” she continued, “because when we do that, we all succeed.”

From her kids, Craig said she learned the importance of family. If it wasn’t for them, she said, she wouldn’t have gotten involved in public service to better their public schools.

Gleason asked how Craig would approach New Hampshire parents to assure them she’d make a difference for their kids.

“I would first listen. Listen to what our families are saying, what are their challenges?” she responded.  “We just need leadership who wants to do better, and I want to do better for the state of New Hampshire.”

Gleason concluded the forum by bringing it back to the important role children play in any election, influencing the everyday issues that guide parents’ decisions in who to vote for.

“There’s nothing partisan about kids,” Gleason said. “There’s nothing partisan about wanting to take care of the wellbeing of kids.”

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