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Business Perspective: Four priority legislative efforts can help ease NH’s worker shortage

Business Perspective: Four priority legislative efforts can help ease NH’s worker shortage

The Business & Industry Association is working aggressively to support four particular legislative efforts now before lawmakers that could help ease the state’s workforce shortage. As New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce and leading nonpartisan business advocate, we know from our membership, which includes nearly 400 employers, the lack of workers is among their greatest challenges.

Affordable and accessible housing options for all is a crucial part of a long-term solution to the worker shortage. The lack of a diversified housing stock has grown over 25 years to a crisis level. While gains are being made, New Hampshire still needs an estimated 20,000 new housing units to eliminate its deficit.

Legislation to create the Housing Champion program, which BIA strongly supports, can help accelerate the creation of more affordable and workforce housing options. The program would begin a new era of support and partnership with local communities trying to thoughtfully respond to the need for more housing. The voluntary program provides a range of new resources, including technical support and infrastructure funding for towns and cities that want to support more housing.

Incentives are superior to mandates, especially in New Hampshire, and the Housing Champion program is vital to building public and private partnerships that will create more housing opportunities to benefit individuals, employers and the state economy.

Legislation to permanently reauthorize expanded Medicaid is among BIA’s top policy priorities. The successful Granite Advantage Health Care Program was established in 2014 and reauthorized twice since then, but it’s scheduled to sunset at year’s end and that could leave up to 60,000 enrolled state residents without adequate health care. The program covers physical and behavioral health and substance abuse treatment for people earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level. The state covers just 10% of the program’s cost as the federal government covers the rest.

If the Legislature doesn’t reauthorize the program, employers will face a reduced and less healthy, less productive workforce amid the worker shortage. And hospitals would lose hundreds of millions in federal funding for medical care that would otherwise be uncompensated, which would increase health care and health insurance costs for employers and employees as hospitals shift those expenses to other payers. BIA is urging permanent reauthorization as health care is a long-term need for recipients, and employers benefit from predictability.

Legislation to increase state funding for the university and community college systems is another priority. Too many of New Hampshire’s high school students leave the state for college and don’t return, and cost is a top reason. Increased investment can make post-secondary education more affordable for in-state students and help reduce our loss of students.

New Hampshire is last among the states in per capita support of higher education and the university system is still impacted by a major cut in 2012. University system officials are working with lawmakers, with BIA’s support, to restore funding in current dollars to 2011’s level. Even if USNH gets the support it seeks, New Hampshire will remain last among states in investment in public higher education.

Our community colleges largely educate in-state students at a tremendous value of $6,450 per year for a full-time course load. The system’s $215 per credit cost has risen just $5 since 2011, however, that still can be prohibitive for some students. Our community colleges often serve as an educational bridge students take directly to employers in the state and that must be strengthened.

Last month’s Business Perspective discussed how the lack of available and affordable child care is exacerbating the worker shortage. Without child care for their workers, employers can’t fill critical vacancies, limiting their opportunities for growth and stifling their potential for economic success. There are multiple bills before lawmakers that would take steps toward attracting and retaining more child care workers. BIA consistently advocates for policies that strengthen the early childhood system including increasing access to quality, affordable child care, knowing it allows caregivers to return to the labor force.

BIA is advocating for or against dozens of other bills related to the high cost of energy, fiscal policy and economic development, telecommunications and data privacy. BIA members, affiliates and the public are invited to our Croissants & Crossover: Legislative review at halfway point of session, on Friday, March 31 from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn in Concord. Click here for more information and to register.

Michael Skelton is president and CEO of the Business & Industry Association. Visit

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