Editor's Column - January 2010

On a 3-degree Minnesota winter day, I’m not feeling very optimistic. We hear horror stories about the number of homeless that are out in this frigid weather, and too often we imagine, or are presented with, just the stereotype: middle-aged males with chronic alcoholism. But there is a larger percentage of homeless families and teens than there were 10 years ago. Stereotypcal or “new” homeless, how can any person survive in this cold? What terrible things have happened to these folks to put them in such dire straits? Again, too often we answer these questions with stereotypes: bad parenting, laziness, mental illness, unwillingness to conform and a hundred other reasons that are “beyond our control.” But, do we really believe that these are simply the problems of individuals and we can’t do anything to help? That’s what it seems like we’re saying as a society in allowing so much homelessness. I’m in my house with the heat on, as I hope you are, and I’m still cold. Soon, many of these homeless will be heading to our emergency rooms to get relief from frostbite or other ailments that are caused by exposure to the weather and deplorable conditions. They’ll have no health coverage and if they don’t live, or can’t prove they live, in the county that that emergency room is in, they’ll be sent away. Who will have the job of telling the middle-aged alcoholic with fingers and toes falling off, or the 16 year old who has been abused at home, that they’ll have to find medical help elsewhere? In hospitals across the state, individuals will have to speak with the voice of Minnesota and say, “Sorry; we are not able to care for you.”

A group of six individuals has taken Governor Pawlenty to court for overstepping his power when he used the unallotment tool to eliminate funding for several state programs. A Ramsey County District Court judge has put a temporary restraining order on the cuts to the Minnesota Supplemental Aid special diet program. The ruling reverses the cut and authorizes payments retroactive to November 1, pending a hearing in the case set for March 1. In some cases these diets were saving people’s lives. In any case, it is better for them to have good nutrition, and probably more cost-effective for the state of Minnesota to pay for their special diets. The same thing is going to happen with General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC). People will be losing their ability to get health care and the results will be very expensive to us all. How can we continue to allow the health of our communities to deteriorate to the point where it costs us all more to maintain people’s quality of life, because we didn’t pay for the upfront needs? It’s silly. We have to find new ways of creating revenue and continue looking for areas that can be made more cost-effective. We have to have opportunities for the creative to be creative. That has always been the backbone of Minnesota: give people an opportunity, and they’ll find mines, build computers, design medical equipment and even manufacture Scotch tape and Post-it notes. We have to find ways to cut excess cost in many of our programs, yes, but without it costing more later. We have to build up our middle-class population again, it doesn’t work having only rich and the poor.

We have to have education and opportunities in order to create new and ingenious ways of producing new products and services that in turn will create new revenue. It all sounds so simple. . . but of course it’s not and I am not so naïve to think that it could all be solved by one action or one legislative session; it has to be a group of actions and a long trend of sessions. We all have to be part of the movement that creates the positive actions. We all have to give back, in some fashion. I think that the next two years will be very critical for the health and welfare of all the disability community at the state and federal levels, as we set a direction of progress or regression and loss.

At the top of my list is personal care assistance (PCA) programs. For many of us, having an education, having transportation, and even have a good job won’t help us if we don’t have anyone to get us out of bed in the morning. We can’t let the PCA program be dismantled without a fight. Like many of you, I would rather avoid confrontation than face it head-on, but it’s looking like a fight will be necessary! Hopefully, we will be allowed to state our cases and tell our stories to convince our leaders that these programs are not conveniences for us, they are absolute necessities to maintain a good quality of life and be productive citizens. What’s first on your legislative priorities?

Running throughout the upcoming session will be a lot of electioneering. Minnesota’s next governor will have to make some difficult decisions. We should all take a close look at our page three article and take the suggested actions, coming up with our own ways of distinguishing, who should be the gubernatorial candidate that will fit our beliefs and our philosophy of Minnesota life.