Nashua Telegraph, April 13, 2020
Recently, I had the honor of participating in the first-ever “remote” legislative committee in New Hampshire. This was the Fiscal Committee, a 10-member joint House and Senate group with knowledge and experience on the state’s financial matters. The Fiscal Committee is important because it can act swiftly, with deep knowledge, public accountability and transparency when the legislature is in session and when it is not.
The Fiscal Committee, by law, is charged with accepting and spending federal funds and approving transfers that various state agencies need to make from time to time to manage their work. Our charge, as laid out in state law, continues in ordinary times and even in extraordinary times, such as we find ourselves in now.
Even in a state of civil emergency, such as we currently find ourselves in, under state law, “the governor may, with the advice and consent of the fiscal committee, authorize such expenditures, by any department or agency, as may be necessary to effectively deal with said civil emergency. …” This powerful yet simple language clearly affirms the relationship between the governor and our representative, citizen legislature, maintaining the Legislature’s constitutional authority to be in charge of the public’s funds. The ability to appropriate public funds, regardless of whether the funds are generated by state or federal sources, is in the hands of the legislature, even when there is an emergency.
I am happy – but not surprised – to report that the process of holding a remote Fiscal Committee meeting worked beautifully. This seamless process was a result of hard-working, committed representatives and senators along with amazing state employees from several agencies. We did what we always do to make state government work on behalf of our citizens; it was just by telephone conference call rather than in a legislative committee room in Concord.
Among our other items on the agenda, we accepted $1.2 million of federal stimulus funds to increase Meals on Wheels deliveries. This is important as we want people to stay indoors, socially distant, but we don’t want our elders to go hungry. Increasing access to home delivered healthy meals is a no-brainer.
We also were informed that the governor had decided to make transfers from several programs in the state budget to fund purchases of essential supplies to fight the COVID-19 epidemic. Among these cuts were funds for prescription drug financial assistance for low income seniors, homeless and housing services and state loan payment assistance for critically needed health care workers. While these cuts will have significant impact on important priorities, we were pleased to hear that the Department of Health and Human Services is hoping to be able to “backfill” the budget with future stimulus funds. We agree that backfilling the budget is a priority for accepting and spending the forthcoming $1.25 billion federal stimulus funds coming later this month, and the Fiscal Committee stands ready and eager to work with the governor and state agencies to do so.
I am proud and honored every day to serve my district and the state of New Hampshire in the Senate. But I was never more proud than at the recent Fiscal Committee meeting.
Cindy Rosenwald is a state senator representing District 13 who serves as a member of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee.