The state budget deficit for the next biennium worsened with the announcement that the November Revenue Forecast shows a shortfall of $700 million, $1.4 billion counting inflation, for the next biennium. The budget deficit is much higher than the $300 million deficit projected last February. Because the Governor has recently stated that Minnesota has a “health care spending problem,” services for persons with disabilities may be especially at risk.
The spotlight is definitely on the Department of Human Services with a growth rate from this biennium to the next biennium of 19.9 percent. There are a number of areas where disability services are expected to grow, including the number of people eligible for Medical Assistance due to disability and increases in the disability home and community waiver programs. In addition, health care costs are going up for everyone across the nation, an average of 11.6 percent last year.
The new state budget deficit is even more troubling when one considers that painful cuts made during 2003 to close a $4.5 billion deficit have yet to be remedied because the Legislature did not pass a supplemental budget bill before adjournment last spring. Although both the House and the Senate passed a variety of proposals to reduce the harsh impact of the 2003 cuts such as co-payments, the $500 limit on dental care for adults on Medical Assistance and the sharp increase in parent fees, making progress on these matters during the 2005 Session is made much more difficult by the increased budget deficit.
During the 2003 Session, the Legislature eliminated all new waiver slots for persons with developmental disabilities using the MR/RC waiver and limited caseload growth for those who would otherwise be in a nursing home under the 65 years of age (CADI) to 95 new people a month and the waiver for those with traumatic brain injury (TBI) to 150 per year. The November 2004 forecast does project significant increases for these programs because the caseload limits are not in effect for the 2006-07 biennium. However, because increases are projected, the waiver programs are particularly vulnerable to be targeted for cuts in the Governor’s 2006-07 budget, which is expected in late January. Every increase in health care spending is at risk because of the Governor’s position of “no new taxes” and his commitment to increase funding for education. The money has to come from somewhere; the state constitution requires a balanced budget.
Nonetheless, disability groups are organizing to propose a comprehensive package of changes to improve Minnesota’s policies and services for persons with disabilities as Joel Ulland reported last month on these pages. The issue of raising taxes is being discussed by groups as divergent as the Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Medical Association and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Because of Minnesota’s dire revenue picture, any increases in spending will undoubtedly lead to discussions of increases in revenue: taxes.
Persons with disabilities can stay connected to action at the Legislature by involvement with a disability advocacy group with an Action Alert capacity such as the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the Arc of Minnesota, and National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-Minnesota, Multiple Sclerosis and PACER. Information about these organizations can be found at:
www.c-c-d.org; www.arcminnesota.com; www.mn.nami.org; www.nationalmssociety.org; www.pacer.org.
Because of the many cuts to health and human services needed by persons with disabilities during the 2003 Session, failure to pass a budget bill during 2004 and the daunting shortfall facing the 2005 Legislature, it is vitally important that persons with disabilities using publicly-funded services in Minnesota personally meet their state representative and state senator and keep in close contact with them during the 2005 Session. Information about your legislators and how to contact them can be found at www.leg.state.mn.us.