Advocates want cuts to be restored

With so much still in play during the 2011 legislative session, Minnesotans with disabilities should not be treated like hockey pucks. Disappointment over Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget and its $775 million in health and human services cuts has given way to calls to reduce the cuts to service.  

The challenge of protecting essential services takes on greater urgency as the Minnesota House and Senate work toward a March 25 deadline to have budget bills ready. State lawmakers are to adjourn May 23, so there isn’t a lot of time left to make critical spending decisions.

A slightly better than expected budget forecast released in late February prompted a large group of self-advocates, their family members and service providers to join The Arc Minnesota at a March 1 news conference at the State Office Building. Using a theme of “the political puck stops here,” the group urged Dayton and state legislators to accept ideas for innovations in disability services and protect supports that make independence possible for people with disabilities.

At the March 1 press conference, hockey pucks were handed out to self-advocates to give to their legislators. “For years now people with disabilities and their families have felt that their lives and sense of security have become political hockey pucks, passed and knocked around as they’ve faced cuts to their services and uncertainty about their future,” said Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota’s Public Policy Director and Co-Chairman of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. He said that with the smaller projected deficit, Dayton needs to reduce cuts to services that affect vulnerable people.

One focus at the press conference was innovation, as Nathan Bauer of Richfield and Jean Bender of St. Paul discussed how innovations in disability services have made their lives better, Bauer has benefitted from Housing Access Services, which allows him to live in his own apartment. Bender, whose son David, who has significant disabilities, said that more flexibility and control over her son’s services has helped her family and has saved money for the state.

“We don’t want more, more, more,” said Bender. “What we want is to be partners in our family members’ care.”

A stepped-up presence at the capitol is expected in the days ahead. As Access Press went to press, self-advocates planned a sit-in in Dayton’s office to protest personal care attendant (PCA) cuts that are affecting an unknown number of Minnesotans. More groups were weighing in with designated advocacy days.

Dayton initially announced plans that disappointed and angered many, including a 4.5 percent cut to programs that serve people with disabilities and elderly Minnesotans in their homes or community-based programs. He would also eliminate coverage for about 7,200 Minnesotans on MinnesotaCare

His budget would raise money by dramatically increasing surcharges on nursing facilities, health plans and hospitals. The increases were defended by the governor, saying that health care providers could make up many of those tax payments through higher reimbursement rates from the federal government. But health providers dispute that claim.

After the revised state forecast came out February 28, the news was slightly better. The anticipated budget deficit decreased from $6.2 billion to $5.082 billion, due to increased state revenue and a federal tax compromise. Dayton indicated he would revise his budget, and restore some of the planned cuts to long-term care. Nursing homes are expected to be the focus but how the changes would affect community based services remained unclear. The changes to Dayton’s budget in some cases mean that anticipated reductions will be smaller. In other cases, little change is seen. With so many bills and budgets in play, one of the best ways to stay updated is through organizations’ websites and the MN-CCD blog. http://mnccd.wordpress.com/

Information from Mike Gude at the Arc Minnesota was used in this story.

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