As the 2018 Minnesota Legislature enters its final weeks, many disability advocates are increasingly frustrated. A lack of action on several fronts, especially where critical services hang in the balance, adds to urgency and uncertainty. More than 4,000 bills were introduced this session, and many are still up in the air.
The second bill deadline was March 29, just before legislators took off for the Easter and Passover break. Many items await action the second week of April when lawmakers return. Bonding for state parks accessibility remains in play, as does complex care funding, changes to MNChoices, and initiatives for mental health, special education, autism and accessibility. Several changes to reform elder care, in the wake of nursing home and senior living facilities deaths and injuries, are also rolling toward resolution.
One big question mark this session is the fate of the Crisis Connection. The Richfield call center is operated by Canvas Health of Oakdale, a nonprofit mental health agency. It will start to shut down May 21 unless funding is founded. The Crisis Connection needs at least $969,000 per year to remain open.
Bills to fund suicide prevention programs such as Crisis Connection are active from the 2017 legislative session. But nothing has been done. Canvas Health CEO Matt Eastwood told the Pioneer Press that while there is great bipartisan support for the bills, action hasn’t been taken.
Crisis Connection served more than 52,000 people last year. Calls are confidential and free. Persons whose families have been affected by suicide, and those who have found a lifeline through the service, have been asking legislators for support.
Many people, including some state lawmakers, assume that Crisis Connection is funded by the state but that is not the case. Crisis Connection lacks a consistent source of funding.
In 2017 a looming shutdown was averted with funds from the Minnesota Department of Health. But advocates contend that ongoing help is needed. What is now Crisis Connection has been in place since 1969. In 2017, the number of calls redirected from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline went up 40 percent from 2016. This was largely to the increase in demand for rural Minnesota mental health services. Crisis Connection is the only Minnesota crisis call center that responds to calls from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The service works with 13 contacts, including one for struggling farmers through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Many mental providers give Crisis Connection as a contact, often for after-hours help.
If Crisis Connection closes, people still could call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. But they would likely be routed to a counselor in another state accepting overflow calls, which could result in longer wait times. It also could mean more difficulty in accessing local resources.
CDCS is done
Other bills already will have to come back next year. One huge disappointment for many disability groups is that Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS) is done for the 2018 session. It was a top priority for the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD).
The Arc Minnesota and Lutheran Social Services also championed the bill. CDCS allows people accessing Medical Assistance (MA) waivers to manage their funding in an effective, self-directed way possible. People can also access services and supports in the inclusive settings of their choice. This legislative session, advocates called for increasing the CDCS budget for individuals moving out of foster care into the family’s home or into a place of their own. Another ask was that CDCS budgets sufficiently cover the cost of crisis services, so individuals can remain in their communities and avoid placement in costlier institutional settings.
Many advocates sought funding for a statewide education and marketing campaign to raise awareness about CDCS and its person-centered benefits, because of the program’s flexibility and its focus on allowing people with disabilities and their families to have such a strong say in services and supports. Some Minnesota counties don’t give CDCS to promotion advocates say it deserves.
The Arc Minnesota’s Public Policy Director Alicia Munson said there wasn’t time to draft revisions sought to the bill after DHS staff raised concerns. “It’s a disappointment because there are so many people whom we feel would benefit,” she said.