Minnesota’s disability community saw many more gains than losses during the 2014 legislative session. The 5% Campaign for an increase in personal care attendant wages, changes in programs for people with autism, bonding requests and changes to many other education, health and job training programs were among the issues that found support at the state capitol.
Not every issue important to the disability community was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction when the final gavel fell May 16. But most advocates agree it was a good session and that groundwork was laid for further changes in 2015.
The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilitie (MN-CCD) celebrated session’s end May 21, with a focus on the 5 percent increase. “What a difference a year makes,” said Bruce Nelson, CEO of ARRM. One person he singled out for thanks is The Arc Minnesota’s public policy director, Steve Larson, for his leadership on The 5 % Campaign. Personal stories from caregivers and self-advocates also made the difference, Nelson said. “Legislators remembered those stories and remember what all of you said.” He thanked everyone for their work in providing real-life examples.
The 5 % Campaign and many other efforts were helped by a state budget surplus. Although there were more requests than dollars available, several disability
community programs did benefit. The Minnesota’s eight centers for independent living were awarded a one-time appropriate of $450,000 for fiscal year 2015, from those surplus funds. Another plus is $250,000 for extended employment programs, to provide rate increases to organizations offering extended employment services to Minnesotans with disabilities.
Other campaigns set groundwork for the future. In employment services for persons who are deaf, deafblind or hard-of-hearing, policy language was added for future grants. This change was included in hopes that organizations serving these populations do not have to compete as part of the broader Adult Workforce Development Competitive Grant Program pool.
In health care, an across the board cut of 10% was made for all parental fees. This was accomplished because money was available due to the delays in the implementation of the autism benefit passed in 2013. Several thousand Minnesota families will benefit from this action.
A number of changes were made in mental health. The role of mental health crisis teams was expanded to ensure they provide earlier and more proactive assistance to people experiencing a mental health crisis. The expansion includes providing follow-up services and working more collaboratively with families. More mental health training and clarification of the voluntary mental health certification for adult foster care providers also won praise.
One effort that drew on a large number of self- advocates and parents was the quest to legalize marijuana. Legalization of medical marijuana will help Minnesotans with nine medical conditions spelled out in the newly passed law.
Minnesota became the 22nd state in the country to allow medical marijuana. But the law is one of the most restrictive as it bars use of marijuana in plant form. That is, patients will only be able to use pills, liquids or vaporized liquid marijuana. Some people have already rejected those restrictions as impractical.
Those who can use medical marijuana must have cancer associated with severe or chronic pain, wasting or vomiting, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, seizure-inducing epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms brought on by multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and terminal illness under certain conditions.
Medical marijuana will only be available at eight locations and can only be used by persons whose medical conditions have been certified. Patients will register and pay a $200 or $50 annual fee, depending on income and insurance coverage. The program is to be in place by July 1, 2015 and will be studied by a task force.
What remains for 2015? There are many issues of concern to the community. MN-CCD has surveyed its members and hopes to announce it main 2015 policy issue soon.
Much unfinished business remains including the Medical Assistance spend-down, the need for more transportation funding and changes to the Community First Services and Supports (CFSS) program, which was created by lawmakers in 2013.This program is replacing the personal care attendant program. It is meant to facilitate transitions out of institutional care, or prevent or delay future admissions to institutional care.
But while CFSS has been praised as allowing people with disabilities to control their own resources and direct their own care, one needed change wasn’t made to the program. Language to change the discriminatory definition of dependency did not make it into the Omnibus bill due to its cost, limiting the number of people who are eligible for CFSS. Changing the language and new ways to address those concerns will be sought in 2015 session.