Editor's Column - March 2012

This morning on the news the meteorologist said that today would probably be the coldest day for the rest of the winter. He said that we may see some snow, but first we’ll see 60° or even 70° temperatures.

I’m all for that, but can we believe those guys? I’ll tell you the truth, after spending a few days in the hospital last week, any weather feels good to me! Some sun on the face and air that smells fresh—it’s the best. I have a feeling a lot of you know what I mean.

The 2012 legislative session has been going according to plan, with lots of stalling and always something for everyone to wait on, such as legislators who don’t want to commit. The first few weeks of the session seemed mostly positive, except for the Senate voting not to confirm the governor’s energy commissioner, Ellen Anderson, and Gov. Mark Dayton having to say that he couldn’t trust the Republicans. Most of the hearings that I’ve attended have been positive and many legislators are on board for human services programs and disability rights legislation.

One thing we were waiting to hear was the forecast of how much the state’s budget surplus would be. Just prior to the February budget forecast, many of the mainstream media were saying that there was not going to be a surplus. Well, I’m glad they were wrong: there is a predicted surplus of $323 million, but not nearly as much as estimated in November. The February forecasted surplus is committed by state law to restocking the state budget reserve and to the schools that have taken such drastic hits with budget shifting, and the expense of loans to tide them over. I guess there hasn’t been quite the recovery that all of us Minnesotans were hoping for, but it’s sure better than the shortfalls of recent years.

The state has targeted substantial savings in Health and Human Services (HHS) programs, mostly Medical Assistance, and many of those savings are to be derived through program cuts that directly impact people with disabilities in a very fiscally irresponsible way. We have to end the state’s cost shifting to K-12 schools, but we also have to continue supporting HHS programs. Many of these programs offer only short-term help for people who will be able to become completely independent, and for many that should be the goal. But in many of these programs we don’t calculate the true long-term savings of providing preventive services against the initial savings of kicking people off the programs. Many HHS programs involve long-term services that truly save money and resources and avoid other, more long-term and higher-cost expenditures. MA-EPD’s age limit of 65 is a primary example. Some people on this program will decide to continue working past age 65 and pay their medical assistance costs themselves. This is choosing poverty, usually, but on one’s own terms. It’s bound to be very costly in the long run for clients and for the state. What sense does it make, anyway, for the state to ask people to stop earning a salary and paying taxes, especially at an age when they are bound to be higher-cost clients on Medical Assistance (aging issues, needing subsidized housing, nursing home, food stamps, help with transportation and more)?

In this election year, I just hope we don’t lose traction on many of these program cuts—including the 20% reduction in pay for PCAs who are relatives of the client, and the severe cuts to eligibility for Medical Assistance—just because our politicians are out campaigning. We have to find ways to keep them working at funding and improving programs, even while they’re mostly interested in politicking and funding their own campaigns.

Let’s look forward to a warm summer without floods, tornadoes, droughts or other situations that will slow down our economic recovery. It’s on the way!

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