By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN – Some of the most popular federal programs in Coos County, ranging from economic development and housing grants to fuel assistance and Meals on Wheels, are eliminated or reduced under the preliminary budget released this week by President Donald Trump.
“President Trump campaigned on the promise that he would look out for those in rural, economically-disadvantaged areas like the North Country, but instead, his budget proposal stabs them in the back,” said North County State Senator Jeff Woodburn.
The state’s Congressional delegation said the list of programs eliminated in Trump’s budget includes Community Development Block Grants, Low Income Home Energy Assistance, Weatherization, as well as the Northern Borders Regional Commission. Funding for Meals on Wheels would be cut.
Last fiscal year, over 6,000 households in Coos County and northern Grafton and Carroll Counties, received fuel assistance through the program managed by Tri-County Community Action Program. The assistance helped 12,676 low income and elderly individuals heat their homes during the winter. The money goes directly to the fuel supplier on behalf of the recipient.
Andrea Brochu, Division Director of Energy, Elder and Outreach, which manages the LIHEAP program, says that “it has proven year after year to be a good investment, not only in the savings of human lives, but as an effective expenditure of taxpayer dollars as well.”
Through its Weatherization Program, TCCAP helped 214 homes in the three county area make $1.1 million in improvements in the last fiscal year. The program assists low-income households make energy conservation improvements to drive down the cost of heating and also to make homes safer.
The Meals on Wheels program provides hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors. Statistics for that program were not available Friday.
The budget also eliminates Community Development Block Grants, which provides communities and counties with grants for economic development and housing projects. U.S. Congresswoman Anne Kuster said eliminating the grants, which can range up to $500,000, would hurt efforts to plan and invest in the future.
Berlin used a $500,000 CBDG to assist Capone Iron North Wood set up operations in the city’s industrial park. Capone is up and running and expects to employ at least 50 people in good paying jobs.
The city also successfully applied for three CDBG grants totaling $1.35 million for its Neighborhood Reinvestment Program. That program assisted over 90 homes in making improvements and upgrades to make the properties safe, accessible, and energy efficient. Many of those assisted were elderly and/or disabled and all qualified as low to extremely low income.
Other CBDG grants have be used in the redevelopment of the former Notre Dame High School into senior apartments, the conversion of the former Bartlett School into a 13-unit apartment complex, and renovations to Brookside Apartments.
The budget proposal also eliminates funding for the Northern Borders Regional Commission, which was set up to invest in economic and infrastructure projects in northern New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and New York. From 2010-2015, the commission invested $3.3 million in New Hampshire projects.
The commission awarded the town of Northumberland $200,000 to bringing water and sewer to the former Groveton mill site, helping to attract NSA Industries to expand there with plans for 70 jobs. Northern Borders also supplied approximately $160,000 to allow WREN to purchase a Main Street building in Berlin for a training center and maker space. In the recent round of funding, the city received $250,000 for its river walk project. Other Northern Borders grants have helped expand cell service and broadband availability and assist in tourism efforts. U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen called eliminating the Northern Borders Commission “mindless” and said it would be a real blow to jobs in the North Country.
“Recent commission investments have brought important employment and infrastructure developments to the community, and provided funding for treatment and recovery services to help battle the opioid epidemic.” Shaheen said.
U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan vowed she will fight to ensure the cuts never happen.
“President Trump’s budget puts corporate special interests ahead of critical economic priorities for New Hampshire, including drastically cutting economic development efforts to bring new jobs to the North Country,” Hassan said.
The congressional delegation pointed out Trump’s budget also slashes the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by a third, the Department of Agricultural by more than 20 percent, and the Department of Education by 14 percent.
“President Trump’s preliminary budget proposal is simply a disaster for our economy, environment, seniors, and hardworking families in New Hampshire and across the country. This budget proposal should raise red flags for anyone who wants to grow our middle class, create good paying jobs, protect human health and our environment, and fight climate change,” said Kuster.