New Hampshire lawmaker who opposes government aid picked to distribute virus funds

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State Rep. Ken Weyler once urged lower-income women to just 'swap childcare.'

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu appointed a controversial panel last week to help oversee the distribution of more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 response funds.

One of those appointees is a state lawmaker with a long history of anti-welfare, anti-mental health, and anti-Muslim comments.

Sununu, a Republican, named eight legislators, evenly split between the two parties, to be his "Legislative Advisory Board" for the Governor's Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery. The office will distribute COVID-19 aid and stimulus funds from the federal government.

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Ken Weyler, ranking member on the Legislature's House Finance Committee, was one of his eight picks for the panel.

A Republican serving his 16th term in the state House, Weyler has a history of opposition to using government funds to help vulnerable constituents.

In 2011, then-Finance Committee Chair Weyler pushed for cuts to behavioral health spending. At a hearing, he claimed that mental health providers try to get more funding by pushing clients to become "patients for life."

"By cutting the amount of help we're willing to offer, we'd like them to discover that some of these people can be cured," he argued. "You shouldn't keep them just so you can keep your revenue coming in."

There is no "cure" for mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, treatment typically consists of proper diagnosis by a licensed professional, followed by "medication, psychotherapy [or] peer support groups."

When Democratic lawmakers urged Weyler that same year not to cut child care for mothers trying to get off of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, he suggested that they do what his wife did. "Mothers can swap" childcare, he claimed.

"Swapping" child care is often unmanageable for lower-income parents, who are frequently unable to access paid leave and typically work inflexible hours. According to the Center for American Progress, low-income families face major barriers when it comes to child care and are often forced to choose between paying exorbitant costs for child care, which many cannot afford, or dropping out of the workforce altogether.

Weyler has also opposed public STD and HIV clinics, saying they are "rewarding negative behavior," despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that expanded access to testing and preventative care not only protects people's lives but generates substantial cost-savings for the country.

Weyler has a history of blatant Islamophobia as well. In 2016, he falsely claimed that all of the "terrorist attacks of the last 20 years have been by Muslim fanatics" and that Islam is a "cause rather than religion because this is an ideology posing as a religion."

Weyler also argued that Boston Marathon bombers might not have turned violent if they had not been "raised on public benefits."

After he called President Obama "a pro-Muslim president who is probably getting paid by the Muslims" and said that providing public assistance to "any person or family that practices Islam" constitutes "treason," his remarks were denounced by many — including Sununu.

"Certainly I do not share Rep. Weyler's opinions on this matter and I reject his comments," he said in April 2016.

Sununu's office did not immediately respond to questions Weyler's recent appointment to the governor's advisory board.

Some New Hampshire Democrats have been critical of Sununu's legislative panel and his assertion that he can control the federal funds instead of the Legislature, warning of a "power grab."

"The people of the state of New Hampshire did vote for Gov. Sununu, but they also voted for 424 members of the Legislature," said Senate President Donna Soucy, noting that state law designates the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee to provide "advice and consent" on even emergency expenditures.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.