State cut may affect 500 N.H. families

A state budget cut has forced a statewide mental health advocacy organization to drop up to 500 families, including many in Greater Nashua, from a program that was helping them to advocate for their mentally ill children.

The cut also eliminates educational programs for parents with young children and adult children who have mental illnesses, and ends funding for a help and referral telephone line.

“It’s a loss for everyone – a huge loss,” said Jan Huddleston, coordinator of the Family Partner Program for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill New Hampshire.

Almost a month after the start of the current fiscal year on July 1, the state Department of Health and Human Services announced the $511,000 cut – the annual budget for the programs and more than half of NAMI NH’s $962,000 annual budget, said Tammy Murray, chief financial officer for the organization. At the same time, Murray said, the state made a tentative agreement to provide $130,000 to be used to phase out the advocacy and education programs.

Murray said the organization hadn’t anticipated the cut, which was announced last week. The state has funded the programs at the same level for the past seven years, she added.

“They are left without someone to supervise and direct them through the system,” Murray said, referring to parents who have used the program to obtain educational and social services for their children.

In addition, she said, the cut means the elimination of 10 positions at the mental health advocacy organization.

Huddleston, the program coordinator, said the cuts, while a blow to the families needing services, also affect the communities where the services have been provided.

“They (families) do not have the family partner at individual educational plan meetings in the school. They do not have them to call and assist them,” she said, implying that the schools likewise have depended on the expertise of the advocates.

Sam Adams, president of the NAMI NH board, said the cuts affect a population least likely to have alternative resources.

“The issue is people who can least afford to have things cut will be left high and dry,” Adams said, describing the 400 to 500 families in the Family Partner Program as “among the most needy in New Hampshire.”

Adams said his organization’s current challenge is to find a way to fill the gap. “We have to make sure there will be resources available to take care of these people,” he said. “It’s often forgotten that families are the primary caregivers for people with mental illnesses.”

Adams said the organization is seeking volunteers to assist with educational and support programs.