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NH Ranked Best State to Raise Children, But Some State Officials Say More Needs to Be Done

A new report ranks New Hampshire as the best state to raise children based on economic well-being, health care, and education, among other factors. The Granite State has consistently been ranked one of the top states for families to have kids in other studies. Because of the high ranking, some state officials are cheering the statistic, but others are cautious that the state shouldn’t be complicit when tackling children’s issues.

The report released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that health care was the biggest difference between the highest- and lowest-ranking states. Based on data from the Population Reference Bureau, the report ranked New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont as the best states overall, and Mississippi, New Mexico, and Louisiana at the bottom of the list.

Image Credit: Annie E. Casey Foundation 2017 Kids Count Data Book

A map in the report highlights clear regional trends, with the South accounting for 15 of the 20 lowest-ranking states. Only Virginia was ranked in the top half of the states. Also, other than Rhode Island, every New England state was ranked within the top 20. Those regional categories continued when broken down by each category, including economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Another study, released at the end of May, from Save the Children, ranked New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New Jersey as the top three states “where childhood is least threatened.” New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana rounded out the bottom of the list.

Those results are in close agreement to personal finance website WalletHub’s 2017’s Best & Worst States to Raise A Family released in January. That study named North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Vermont as the best states to raise a family, and once again, the same three states were at the bottom: New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Why is the Northeast doing so well and the Southern states aren’t? If you break down the categories individually, you’ll see varying state dynamics and different policy priorities.

According to the Annie E. Casey report, 2015 childhood poverty rates were lowest in New Hampshire at 11 percent, while Mississippi’s was the highest at 31 percent. Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont all tied for the lowest rate of teens not in school and or working, which was 4 percent. Louisiana’s rate was the highest at 11 percent.

When it comes to education, the report also found that while 50 percent of Massachusetts fourth-graders in public schools are unable to read proficiently, New Mexico’s rate is a staggering 77 percent. For context, the national average is 65 percent.

Some New Hampshire officials applauded that the state was ranked number one in the study, including Lorna Colquhoun, communications director for N.H. Division of Economic Development.

While appreciative for the recognition, Taylor Caswell — executive director of the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority — said not all families in the state are receiving the same benefits.

“[It] certainly makes us look great compared to some other states, but I would say my own experience is that the types of benefits it claims are not consistently seen across our small state,” he told NH Journal. “In my work I see a whole lot of room for improvement in areas of the state that don’t always show on the radar of broad national-scale rankings … and so when rankings like these come out it often can provide room for people to take their foot off the accelerator or move to some other issue or initiative, often at the expense of the families in those areas.”

Caswell took to Twitter to make his concerns known. The New Hampshire Democratic Party was quick to say that Caswell and Colquhoun’s tweets shows infighting within Gov. Chris Sununu’s administration.

Caswell said some areas the state needs to continue work on is early childhood education, access to job training, healthcare access, broadband coverage, and workforce housing.

“Accessing those things is not a consistent experience across the state and I consider those things to be among the most important in providing broad access to the state’s economy for all residents,” he said. “Maybe I’m just not easily satisfied.”

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Future of Community Development Block Grants for NH Unknown

If Congress doesn’t pass a long-term budget bill by the end of the month, federal funding for state infrastructure development or affordable housing might dry up, leaving cities and towns with less money in grants to fund these projects.

The Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA), the state agency that doles out those dollars, recently said it has to pause in handing out more than $2 million in community development block grants because Congress has yet to pass a continuing resolution to fund the federal government and its programs for the next year. They have an April 28 deadline.

“Towns across New Hampshire depend on these federal funds,” said Taylor Caswell, executive director of the CDFA, in a statement. “Dozens of local municipalities across the state use these resources to bring new jobs, help treat drug addiction, build workforce housing, and revitalize downtowns, among other important community and economic development projects.”

The CDFA has awarded more than $126 million in grants to projects across the state since 2003. The YMCA in Concord recently won a $500,000 federal grant for improvements on the building that hosts its child care facility and it’s assuming it will be approved by the governor and Executive Council.

However, money for four other organizations — including a child advocacy center renovation in Laconia and affordable housing in Exeter — might not receive funds, even though they would have if the CDFA had more funds. Those projects are suspended until Washington reaches a solution.

The state usually receives about $8 million each year in community development block grants and the CDFA typically finds out in January how much it will see that year. Yet, the funding for this year is in jeopardy since Congress’ stopgap spending plan expires at the end of April and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which administers the block grants to states, has yet to release funding figures for the year.

“When a resolution in Washington D.C. is reached and HUD provides specific allocation amounts for fiscal year 2017, and it has been determined that funding level is adequate, CDFA will move swiftly to finalize awards for the remaining four projects, as well as restart suspended application reviews,” the CDFA said in a statement. “CDFA deeply regrets this situation and is in touch with New Hampshire’s federal delegation in Washington D.C. to urge swift resolution of this matter.”

New Hampshire’s Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan have been fervent supporters of the community development block grants and since the CDFA’s announcement, they’ve been sounding the alarm in Congress, encouraging lawmakers to reaffirm their commitment to funding these grants.

They joined 40 other senators earlier this month in urging federal appropriators to include $3.3 billion in federal funding for the block grant program for the 2018 fiscal year budget.

“The CDBG program is one of the federal government’s most effective means to revitalize low- and moderate-income communities across the country,” the senators wrote in a letter. “The importance of this funding to meet the unique needs of local communities is widely recognized and we find it troubling that the President’s budget proposes to eliminate the program altogether.”

President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” called for the elimination of the block grant program, which has been used extensively in New Hampshire, especially in the North Country for low-income, elderly, and disabled residents.

Shaheen and Hassan called Trump’s proposal to eliminate the program “misguided and harmful” at a Wednesday press conference at the CDFA headquarters in Concord.

“He talked about helping those communities that are struggling with job creation to make sure people have opportunities in the future,” Shaheen said. “Well, this is totally counterproductive to what he was talking about, and this is the budget he’s proposing.”

Hassan echoed Shaheen’s sentiments saying any changes to the program would be “devastating.”

“These cuts would be devastating for New Hampshire, and I’ll do everything in my power, along with Senator Shaheen, to make sure it never happens,” she said.

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