Legislative session’s end was good news, bad news

When the work of the 2017 Minnesota Legislature is reviewed, results for Minnesotans with disabilities are decidedly mixed. Several gains […]

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When the work of the 2017 Minnesota Legislature is reviewed, results for Minnesotans with disabilities are decidedly mixed. Several gains were noted but many requests must wait until 2018.

Gov. Mark Dayton and House and Senate leaders spent the last weeks of the regular session, and a four-day special session, clashing over spending. the first batch of budget bills quickly fell to Dayton’s veto pen.

Failing to finish business by the regular session’s midnight May 22 deadline, legislators rolled into a special session that ended in the early morning hours May 26. One of the last bills that left the floor was health and human services, which is always closely watched by disability community leaders. The bill included some disability funding increases
and long-yterm policy reforms.

Dayton made it known he wasn’t happy with the budget bills he finally signed. but he also wanted to avoid forcing another special session or worse, a government shutdown. The last state shutdown was in 2011.

The debate between Dayton and Republican House and Senate leaders isn’t over yet, as the governor line item-vetoed legislative operating dollars. In early June leaders voted to pursue legal action in the funding fight. Whether the squabble forces a special session this summer isn’t known.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services is analyzing the impact of spending changes. Commissioner Emily Piper issued a statement after Dayton signed the bill affecting her department.

“After many months of work and intense negotiations these last weeks, we are relieved to have ongoing funding and to put the prospect of a government shutdown behind us,” said Piper. “However, the human services bill has many shortcomings, as Governor Dayton pointed out. To pay for a large tax cut, the legislature reduced human services spending by $463 million. That means many important priorities that the legislature and the governor both support were not included. These results are especially disappointing given the large state budget surplus.

“Even so, we were successful in securing funds that allow us to maintain and improve many critical services. We also received important investments in our direct care and treatment area, which serves some of the most vulnerable Minnesotans, and to shore up the aging technology infrastructure necessary to administer health care and economic assistance programs that serve more than one million people. These have been high priorities for at least the past two years and we are pleased to finally move this work forward.”


Gains, losses eyed

At the legislative wrap-up gathering for the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, leaders acknowledged that top-tier legislative priorities passed in some form. Susie Schatz, who co-chairs the consortium’s policy committee, said that while it is encouraging to see gains made in some areas, work will start almost immediately on the 2018 session.

One huge disappointment this session was the fight for additional caregiver compensation. Despite a high-profile campaign, the Best Life Alliance was unable to muster support for a four percent pay increase and improved healthcare. The Complex Care Coalition, which fought for added pay for those who provide the highest levels of care, got into the governor’s budget but failed to make the final cut. A push to help parents with disabilities, who cannot even ask their caregivers to do tasks such as shared laundry, also failed to pass.

Dayton had called for a three percent pay increase for caregivers under the SEIU contract but that was cut to 1.5 percent.

A number of programs in the areas of mental health, special education, housing and developmental disabilities did get needed funding increases. One big win was in Consumer-Directed Community Supports (CDCS), where budget methodology and exceptions process were changed. This is seen as making CDCS and self-direction work
more effectively for children and adults with disabilities. The work has $35,000 attached for 2018 and $65,000 for 2019. The Arc Minnesota took the lead on CDCS.

Lutheran Social Services led the successful quest to increase and expand the Minnesota Supplemental Aid monthly subsidy so more individuals can transition out of congregate settings and maintain independent housing. The legislation was touted as providing cost saving over time.

This year’s push to change the Medical Assistance (MA) spend-down, led by the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, got some results. This would change policy so that people with disabilities who depend on MA services can keep more of their own income and savings to live successfully in community. The current spend-down of $792 per month will increase slightly. Advocates said they’ll be back next session.

The high-profile fight to lower parental fees for children on MA resulted in a 13 percent decrease. Another win was in employment supports, with three new services to be added to help people with disabilities obtain and maintain jobs paying above the minimum wage, in integrated community settings. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society chalked up a victory as there will be a palliative care advisory council created to improve quality and access to coordinated, supportive care during treatment of serious illnesses.

Lawmakers also provided an additional $496,000 in new funding for statewide self-advocacy efforts.

Public safety measures had mixed results. National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Minnesota was unable to get its policy language on solitary confinement and funding for mental health staff in the final bill. But legislators allocated $6 million per year for police training, specific to the areas of crisis intervention and mental illness; conflict management; and “recognizing and valuing community diversity and cultural differences,” including implicit bias training.


Facilities get help

Facilities around the state got help in the bonding and health and human services measures adopted. The Minnesota
Security Hospital in St. Peter received $70.2 million for completion of its phase two renovation, in the bonding bill. That same bill included $2.2 million for Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center security renovations. A new psychiatric hospital in Willmar got $7.5 million.

The Minnesota Security Hospital also received $9 million for staffing for improved client care and staff safety. Staff members have been injured by patients there.

The bonding bill also included $500,000 toward a dyslexia institute of Minnesota facility in Olmsted County, $2 million for asset preservation at Minnesota state academies and $50,000 for security corridor design at the State School for the Deaf.

Dayton proposed a $1.5 billion bonding bill. He and state lawmakers agreed on $990 million.


Paratransit spared deep cuts

Many of the worst transit and paratransit cuts were curbed in the $6 billion transportation package that finally won approval. Paratransit and are to and transit were a focus this spring as rallies were held to decry what appeared to be sweeping cuts to the Twin Cities’ transit and paratransit system.

Dayton dropped his bid to raise the gas tax to fund transportation and transit. Republicans wanted to direct more money to roads and bridges but the two sides compromised. As it is, Metropolitan Council will receive funding for its current level of service. It also received one-time funding of $70 million, to help address a projected $67.5 million two-year budget deficit.

Most of the budget deficit is linked to Metro Mobility, which is facing increasing requests for service. The one-time funding doesn’t take away the need for a transit fare increase, for bus, light rail, commuter rail and paratransit services.  Rate increases are being discussed at public hearings throughout the region this month.

Fares for most services would go up 25 to 50 cents, with Metro Mobility riders paying 50 to 75 cents more.

Metropolitan Council officials have estimated that an increase could raise an additional $15 million more per year.


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