Some–but not all–of the 2011 budget cuts affecting people with disabilities were restored April 25 with the stroke of a pen as Gov. Mark Dayton signed the health and human services bill into law. It allows for the spending of about $18 million in money that Minnesota’s health care plans recently gave back to the state, as part of a program to cap profits.
An April 30 signing ceremony took place in the governor’s conference room and was attended by many disability advocates including Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, NAMI Minnesota; Charles Van Heuvelen, MA-EPD enrollee; Kurt Rutzen, The Arc of Minnesota; Toby Pearson, Government Relations Director, Care Providers of Minnesota; and Bruce Nelson, Executive Director, ARRM. Several state officials also attended including Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson; Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger; state representatives Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), Tom Huntley (DFLDuluth) and Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud), and senators David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) and Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick).
“It’s really an extraordinary accomplishment, especially in the context of the other difficulties we’ve had this session,” said Dayton. He called the legislation “cooperative and this is bipartisan all the way.”
The health and human services bills were followed closely by the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD), selfadvocates and many disability service organizations. A number of bills that were introduced separately were wrapped into the omnibus bill.
Dayton signed the DHS policy bill April 23. It contains compromised language on rate setting, reform of case management services and changes required to move forward with the MN Choices program.
The funding in the bill signed April 25 allows for the state to restore some programs that were cut in 2011, as part of the budget agreement that ended the July state government shutdown. One huge win for many families is a temporary restoration of a 20 percent cut to the wages of personal care assistants (PCAs) who care for family members. That will be in place until July 2013. That $5.9 million cut sparked outrage throughout the state and a legal challenge.
The package restores funding or delays funding cuts of millions of dollars for other programs slashed last year as part of the deficit-fixing budget. The restoration includes $4.7 million for the Emergency Medical Assistance program, which helps those who need dialysis and cancer treatment.
Another winner is continuing care, which has a rate cut delayed. That in turn should allow time for the state to negotiate with the federal government and make the cut unnecessary. Also, a provision delaying the 1.67 percent disability provider rate cut was approved; also gives time to negotiate a federal waiver. Funding restorations or delays in when cuts will be applied will also be a benefit for a number of programs and services.
Many groups were pleased with the bill’s signing. One winner is the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota (ARRM), which saw several of its legislative proposals approved. ARRM began the session with one of the most high-profile legislative packages, making the case that more than 6,500 Minnesotans with disabilities are on waiting lists or residing in non-community settings while enrollment opportunities are limited. ARRM brought forward a number of ideas to reform and balance the care system, to offer individuals and their families a robust and competitive marketplace of choices that meet individual needs and are cost-effective.
Autism advocates will also be pleased to see the legislative package, as it includes $200,000 for a study that looks at autism in Minnesota’s Somali population. One in 27 Somali children are diagnosed with autism at birth. Another autism study would consider early intervention therapies and their projected outcomes.
While having key health and human services legislation signed is a huge step, many issues remained unresolved. Lawmakers were still debating a wide range of issues including tax policy, a bonding bill and a Vikings stadium. Legislators can meet until May 21. If issues aren’t resolved that either forces a special session or postpones issues until next year.