Editor's Column - September 2011

The Board of Directors of Access Press has selected Jeff Bangsberg as the 2011 Charlie Smith Award recipient. It’s been a real honor for me to have Jeff as a mentor and friend over the years. I look forward to Nov. 4 and the opportunity to honor Jeff and congratulate all the nominees. There were many deserving candidates, as there are every year. Read about them on page 3. Hope to see you all there to celebrate the 21st year of Access Press and honor Bangsberg.

It’s been a difficult summer weather-wise. The tornado that ripped up north Minneapolis was devastating and will take the community years to recover. The farmers have lost crops to too much rain and to too much heat. Speaking of heat, in July we had record-breaking highs; my relatives from Phoenix were here in the midst of it and they said they would rather be in 115° out west than in this heat. I agreed; there were some scorching days and nights. Oh well, by Labor Day weekend I was complaining about the cold—but that’s Minnesota.

The summer brought other difficulties as well. First, there was the government shutdown and then a struggle to figure out what exactly happened when the stalemate was resolved. One thing for sure, very little that was positive came out of the 2011 legislative session for the disability community—or for anyone. A few programs were saved, but only for a year. Some prominent politicians are retiring from the legislature.

The real problems that created the difficulties at the capitol will be there for the legislators to try to solve again next year. This session’s solution came on the backs of people with disabilities, the poor and the homeless and the educational systems; all of them also took the brunt of cuts throughout the Pawlenty administration.

I still have hope that Gov. Mark Dayton will find common ground with legislators to achieve his goal of “raising revenue vs. underfunding programs.” He has to do that, to avoid the devastation of essential government services. He and the legislature need to find ways to agree on a budget that will not only save services but save funding for all the service jobs that are supported by state and federal funding. The cuts and cost-shifting in our educational systems have to end.

We have nothing if we don’t have educated citizens. Edward Everett (1794 – 1865; in 1846 he established Harvard’s first school of science) said, “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” (If I were his editor I might have advised ready rather than standing.)

One of the most controversial legislative actions, and it’s one that affects many people with disabilities, is the 20% cut to relatives’ caregivers. Besides affecting people with disabilities directly, it has a disproportionate and unfair impact on their caregivers.

PCAs in general received a 1.5% cut, but if they were family members, for some reason, there was a presumption that their work was less valuable. I’ve heard that the governor has already admitted to a state fair crowd that this was a mistake that will have to be fixed in the upcoming session. (His statement was recorded and as soon as we get the recording, we will post it on our Facebook page, and Twitter with a link it to this column.) If you are someone who is getting this 20% reduction we would love to hear your story. The best way to get this legislation changed will be to have as many stories as possible to tell legislators.

And, if that doesn’t work, there are rumors of a class-action lawsuit. What exactly the class action would be based on is speculation, at this point.

With the legislative struggles, it is truly unfortunate that we have lost one of the disability community’s great public policy advocates, Tim Nelson. Although, I did not know him well, I did see him in action at the capitol and he was there a lot. I imagine with the cuts to residential services, Nelson would have spent a lot of time at the capitol this upcoming session. We will all miss Tim.

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