Democrats want money from rainy day fund for opioid crisis


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Senate Democrats want to free up about $10 million to fight the state’s opioid crisis, though getting their plan through the Republican-controlled Legislature won’t be easy.

Senators on Wednesday announced legislation that would allow the governor or Legislature to declare a public health emergency and tap into 10 percent of the state’s rainy day fund, which stands at about $100 million. They criticized the Trump administration for not doing enough to combat the crisis and faulted state Republicans for not putting more money in a fund for alcohol and drug treatment services.

Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn said the opioid crisis is beyond a “rainy day” scenario — the state is “frozen in inaction.”

“Maybe it’s turned to snow,” he said. “We need tangible action, and this bill would create real money toward New Hampshire’s most urgent crisis.”

Republican Sen. Gary Daniels said lawmakers should analyze the effectiveness of the $36 million the state is spending on the problem before looking to the rainy day fund.

“Before we even consider that, there’s work that needs to be done to determine whether the money we’re spending now is actually effective,” he said.

President Donald Trump declared the crisis a national public health emergency in October but didn’t call for any additional federal money.

New Hampshire’s U.S. senators, both Democrats, have introduced legislation to change federal grant funding formulas to prioritize funding for states that have the highest mortality rates from opioid overdoses and are backing legislation to invest $45 billion for prevention, detection, surveillance and treatment of opioid addiction.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has said Congress needs to “step up” and allocate more funding, recently said he gave the federal drug czar a list of law enforcement, treatment and recovery programs he’d like to expand at a cost of about $350 million.

He did not take a position on the Democrats’ bill, instead his spokesman highlighted the progress made since he took office this year, including doubling the alcohol fund, creating a youth drug treatment center, establishing a statewide needle exchange program and encouraging businesses to help workers in recovery.

“That being said, Governor Sununu is happy to hear any additional concerns regarding the state’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, and would assess the final language of the bill if it were to reach his desk,” Ben Vihstadt said.

This story has been corrected to show that the rainy day fund is $100 million, not $100,000. The summary has been corrected to show that the fund is $100 million, not $10 million.

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