Budget forecast gloomy

Governor’s cuts impact wide variety of health and human services programs

Minnesotans and the state agencies and programs that serve them face difficult times in the months ahead. Over the past few weeks a number of steps have been taken to address the state’s budget deficit. More changes are coming as Gov. Tim Pawlenty prepares to unveil the next state budget.

The opening of the 2009 legislative session on Jan. 6 is when the real challenge will begin. Pawlenty stated during the recent unallotment process that he will not support spending reductions for the military, veterans, K-12 education, and public safety. K-12 is the largest part of the state budget accounting for 40% of the spending. Health and Human Services programs make up 28% and these programs are literally in the bull’s-eye for future cuts.

Forecasts released in December by the Minnesota Department of Finance revealed a $426 million shortfall in the current biennium ending June 30, 2009 and a projected $4.847 billion deficit for the next biennium (July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010) that has to be budgeted for during the 2009 session.

Before Christmas, Pawlenty announced he would balance fiscal year 2009’s budget by using $155 million in budget reserves and then unallot or cut $271 million in current spending. The governor has the power to unallot funds without legislative approval to balance the state budget. The unallotment included $73 million in cuts to the state’s Health and Human Services budget including medical education and hospital funds and $17 million from the Consolidated Chemical Dependency Treatment Fund, as well as $2 million in New Mental Health Grants, $2.717 million to the growth in Medical Assistance waiver programs, and $250,000 cut in housing grants.

An additional $110 million was cut from Local Government Aid for cities and program aids for counties. The governor’s action will restrict any waiver growth during this fiscal year. The housing grants that were cut were to help persons with disabilities access non-provider owned housing alternatives. Cuts in dollars for counties will put in jeopardy many county-funded programs that support persons with disabilities including case management, day training and habilitation, semi-independent living services and respite care. Go to this link for a full listing of the governor’s budget cuts. www.governor.state.mn.us/

The overall state budget is approximately $35 billion, so the projected deficit for the coming biennium represents 13% of the state’s budget. In late January the governor will release his budget proposal for the 2010/2011 biennium. In late February the next financial forecast will be released. Lack of revenue from taxes due to the downturn in the economy and continuing growth in health care are some of the significant factors contributing to the

deficit. The deficit will need to be addressed with program cuts, and possibly with increased revenues. Programs for persons with disabilities will be vulnerable due to the amount spent on programs that continue to grow due to increased numbers of eligible individuals.

During summer and fall 2008 11 committees of the Minnesota Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (MN CCD) met to plan for the upcoming legislative session and for its two-year public policy agenda. MN CCD set its public policy priorities in late 2008. These include Personal Care Assistance (PCA) services, Cost of Living Increases (COLA’s), Statewide Quality Assurance, and Self-Direction.

Anne Henry, Minnesota Disability Law Center, chaired the PCA committee and worked to prepare to respond to the Legislative Auditor’s Report on PCA services which will be presented to the Legislature in January. Part of the commit-tee’s effort was to arrange for the auditor to meet with recipients of PCA services. In October, six recipients met with the auditor and put a real face on the services they receive. In addition the committee has prepared draft legislation to help PCA services work better for PCA participants.

The COLA Coalition will be advocating for a 3% increase for direct care staff and the programs that support persons with disabilities. This will be a difficult task but it is important for the governor and legislators to be highly aware of the importance of these services and the necessity for appropriately compensated staff in order to maintain quality in the supports system for persons with disabilities.

MN CCD will be advocating for the full implementation of the recommendations in the 2007 Quality Assurance Panel Report. Minnesota has not moved from an institutionally-based licensing system to a community-based quality assurance system. Thousands of Minnesotans receiving community based supports have the right to a system that helps assess whether they are achieving their individual goals and outcomes. The 2007 recommendations included a call for a Statewide Quality Assurance Commission, regional commissions, an annual survey of recipients, improved incident reporting and an outcome-based quality assessment system.

Two thousand Minnesotans on waiver programs are benefitting from participating in Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS). They have individual annual budgets and are able to have great flexibility in designing their support system with oversight provided by the county and a fiscal support entity. With the implementation of the Self Directed Supports Option (SDSO) for PCA participants in 2009 more individuals will have greater control of the resources available to them. In 2009 MN CCD will continue to strongly advocate for the state to accelerate Minnesota’s efforts to move in this direction.

Anyone interested in following specific legislation or getting involved with an advocacy group has many options. The Web site www.leg.state.mn.us provides ways to follow specific bills, as well as contact information for state lawmakers. Another good Web site to check is Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN CCD) Web page, which has a “join us at the capitol” section. Learn about and attend various organizations’ events during the 2009 legislative session. It is at www.mnccd.org Rallies are also planned during the session. Courage Center and Axis Healthcare plan an Advocacy Day at the capitol, starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10 at Kelly Inn, 161 St. Anthony Av., St. Paul. Health care, preserving independence, care coordination, transportation and PCA care are among the groups’ issues. To register call 763-520-0439.

Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, Minnesota State Council on Disability, Minnesota Association of Centers for Independent Living and Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota are co-sponsoring Disability Advocacy Day at the capitol from 10 a.m. until noon Monday, Feb. 23. Also at noon until 1 p.m. Saturday, March 7, there will be another rally to show support for services for individuals with disabilities and older Minnesotans. The rally will follow a March 5-6 summit on creating a 21st century plan for disability and aging. The rally will be held at the state capitol, 75 Rev. Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul. The summit is organized by MN CCD and the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota (ARRM). The organizations are rallying everyone to support services for individuals with disabilities and older Minnesotans. The summit provides an opportunity to meet with policy makers and stakeholders to identify challenges, discuss possible solutions and initiative action toward building a sustainable, self-directed system of community supports for persons with disabilities and older adults. For details, check www.arrm.org/summit

Steve Larson is public policy director of The Arc of Minnesota.