Advocacy groups seek to defend services, end bullying

When the 2011 Minnesota Legislature convenes on Jan. 4, activists and self-advocates in the state’s disability community will be working with new people in positions of leadership—including in the governor’s office and in state departments. Changes in the House and Senate also mean changes in the committees that deal with various types of legislation.

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) capped months of legislative preparations by adopting the 2011 legislative agenda Oct. 15. Co-Chair Jeff Nachbar of the Brain Injury Association said committee volunteers, working with MN-CCD staff, put in countless hours pulling together the various agendas.

“Everyone’s hard work is very much appreciated,” Nach-bar said.

But he and other MN-CCD members warned that a difficult legislative session awaits. The state of Minnesota has a ballooning $1 billion budget deficit for 2010-11, and as much as $7 billion for 2012-2013.

During the 2010 session much of the early focus was on saving General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) for Minnesota’s poorest residents, many of whom are people with disabilities. This session much of the focus is expected to be on the state deficit and how it should be addressed, through raising revenue or cutting programs.

Many of the MN-CCD issues will be familiar to those who roam the halls of the capitol, attend rallies, and call, write letters and send emails. Some are carryover topics from past years. Not all of the topics covered by each work group will result in bills or new laws led by MN-CCD this session, said Nachbar. Some are support items, meaning MN-CCD will support other organizations’ efforts to get bills passed into law. Others are issues that need to be raised and put on the radar of state policy makers for the future.

Work groups prepared position papers on seven topic areas: children’s issues, transportation, housing, personal care assistant (PCA) services, employment, quality assurance/self-direction, and health-care and long-term services and supports. This month Access Press covers the PCA program and children’s issue. Quality assurance/self-direction, transportation, employment, housing and healthcare and long-term services and supports will be reviewed in the December issue. The complete agenda, position papers and information on upcoming meetings is at www.mnccd.org

PCA services will continue to be challenging, especially as the community deals with the after-effects of a state auditor’s report that found problems with the program. Past cuts to the program also an ongoing concern. In the area of PCA services, one MN-CCD priority for 2011 is to reinstate access to services for those who need help to function in their homes. These are the people who have been or will be terminated from PCA services due to the 2009 PCA cuts. It is anticipated that more than 3,000 persons could be denied or terminated from PCA services by July 1, 2011.

Part of this effort will involve developing PCA service criteria and authorization of PCA hours for those whose eligibility is terminated because they need prompting and cuing to complete necessary tasks or because their significant behavioral issues no longer qualify them for PCA services. Another focus is to maintain PCA services for those still eligible with no further cuts in hours or eligibility criteria.

Maintaining PCA reimbursement rates is another priority, by pursuing technical or policy changes to correct problems and improve PCA services. This will include clarification of the definition of daily to include those with variable health conditions and when those should be treated. Another change would be to expand of the types of professional who can act as the “qualified professional” when complex medical needs are part of the person’s care plan. According to this work group, more flexibility is needed for persons with disabilities to choose the type of professional best suited for when multiple diagnoses such as developmental disabilities and mental health, complex health procedures are involved.

Another proposed change would prohibit PCA agencies from attempting to restrict PCAs’ employment for with other PCA agencies. The group also wants to see a technical correction made to clarify language mistakenly left in law during 2010 changes to allow phone supervision of PCA staff. Also, state law changes would remove the spend-down payment collection duties from PCA agencies.

In the area of children’s issues, anti-bullying advocates had hoped to have legislation passed during the fall special session to deal with flood relief. Because that didn’t happen, efforts are gearing up to get the legislation passed this session. Pawlenty vetoed a past anti-bullying bill. The Safe Schools for All coalition, a larger statewide group, will lead the effort to pass this legislation. The pending bill will more clearly describe specific groups against which bullying is prohibited, including students with disabilities.

Transitions services is another focus, for both the MN-CCD employment and child-ren’s issues work groups. Advocates want the Minnesota Department of Education to indentify gaps in existing data on the effectiveness of transition services. More specifically, MN-CCD will use the Community Counts report to measure what percentage of students in special education have a transition plan written by grade nine. The work group strongly supports the position that 100% of students in special education have a transition plan written by that time, as well as other possible indicators such as what students in special education have planned for their next step upon graduation. This could then be compared to their actual situation multiple years after graduation.

The 2009 changes to PCA services are also a focus for this work group, as the changes may impact families accessing PCA services for children with mental health issues. In some cases these PCA services serve as a main support for keeping children in their homes and communities. As part of the PCA legislation adopted in 2009, a group of stakeholders is charged with developing alternative services that could be accessed by the adults and children who lose access to PCA services as a result of the legislative changes. MN-CCD will monitor the work of the PCA Alternatives Stakeholder group to ensure the interests of children with disabilities are represented.

Through a partnership with the Autism Advocacy and the Disability Law Center, MN-CCD will work to pass legislation brought forth during the 2010 session. This would require private health insurance plans to cover specific autism treatment models.

Protection of special education funding and training, children’s mental health grants and maintenance therapies is likely to be a key issue as funding for each of these vital services has been seriously threatened in recent legislative sessions. Given the budget deficit the legislature is likely to face during the 2011 session, MN-CCD will work hard to protect the funding for these services by educating legislators about the role of these services in Minnesota’s families.

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