If one looks at the weekly calendars for the House and Senate, you would think there is not much going on. That is true. But there are important one-on-one meetings between Senators and parties interested in how funds are allocated in the next biennial budget.
These can be very helpful meetings. Even as we are in the election season, most Senators find time to meet with constituents as well as organizations that have a stake in the outcome of the next legislative session. An example is a meeting last week with New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA) at their office in Claremont.
The NHLA office operates like a regular law office. In their case, attorneys and paralegals offer advice to clients, and when appropriate, represent clients in the courts and before agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Employment Security and the Public Utilities Commission.
The difference between a traditional law firm and NHLA is that NHLA provides its services free to clients who are eligible based upon income. While you have a constitutional right to a lawyer if you are arrested, you do not have a constitutional right to a lawyer in a non-criminal legal matter.
So, NHLA provides help in housing cases (evictions, mortgage foreclosure, housing discrimination), public benefit cases by helping clients get benefits they are eligible for such as food stamps, unemployment compensation, child or medical care, and federal and state disability issues such as getting social security benefits. NHLA is also involved in cases dealing with restraining orders, domestic violence and child support.
While the state must pay for counsel for indigent defendants, the state may or may not contribute to the work of NHLA. Through the state bar foundation, the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) was established. The IOLTA provided as much as $1.1 million for the annual operations of NHLA, usually from real estate transactions. That has dropped to $600,000 this year as the recession has pushed interest to historic lows and real estate activity has diminished due to the recession.
The Senate supported an appropriation of $300,000 in each year of the biennium to help fill the gap. That money survived the committee of conference process and is now in the current budget. That decision reflects the importance the legislature places on the work of NHLA.
When Mary Krueger or Ben Morrell, the two staff attorneys in the Claremont office, help a poor person collect a social security benefit, it may keep that person from having to go to the municipal welfare office. If they help a parent collect child support, it may help a parent and child to stay off of welfare. And, if someone can become eligible for unemployment compensation, it may help that person remain in the job search market and keep their family together until they find their next job.
I had met with the NHLA staff a couple of years ago and last week’s meeting reminded me of the daily work that goes on in the Claremont office as well as around the state. I could trace the state role and funding that we approved in the last legislative session and obviously was being encouraged to look favorably on funding for the agency in the next biennium.
Meetings like mine with NHLA are enormously helpful and are a good use of a legislator’s time during this non-legislative season.
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We are always saddened by the passing of a neighbor and townsperson. The sadness is especially felt with the death of Horace Cragin, of Lempster, last week.
Horace was an icon of a small town New Hampshire citizen. While many in town knew Horace for their entire lifetimes, I only knew him for about 25 years. When we had a community church in Lempster, every year we had a fair to raise money. Horace always had the best vegetables to contribute to the fair. And, of course, for gardeners like my late wife Sandy, there was talk for the next year of the quality and size of Horace’s garden treasures.
He served in several town offices, contributed land for our local school, was a Grange member and for years was the treasurer of the community church in Lempster. And to think in this day, he was born in the house he lived in his entire lifetime … 94 years.
Many of Horace’s friends and neighbors had an opportunity to visit him in the last few weeks as his health declined. His positive spirit and manner of sharing his friendship with you was so very generous and sincere. He was especially happy to participate in an important Masonic event just a couple of weeks before his death. He also had a chance for a final trip to his home a few days later for which he was very appreciative.
A few years ago there was a newspaper story about Horace being Lempster’s man of the century. This humble, gentle man was that and much more. Our town will miss him.
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