For organizations that serve Minnesotans with disabilities, the historic state shutdown and its aftermath have created a flurry of activities that for some, are far from over. For agencies that had to shut down and then start up, the complications have been many and varied. A few of the complications were unintentionally humorous.
One agency that faced challenges is Radio Talking Book, a program of State Services for the Blind. This service provides information and entertainment to Minnesotans who are visually impaired and its reading and program schedules are avidly followed. The shutdown put a halt midway through some books, a frustration to those who rely on the service and had to wait for almost three weeks to hear books continued. When that program’s staff returned after the three-week shutdown, they were faced with several problems. The building was locked so no volunteers had been able to produce programs. All mail delivery to the building had stopped so there were few materials for producing new programs.
“If people turned on their radios on Thursday, July 21, they may have noticed that most of the programming sounded like it did not come from Minnesota. We had phone calls asking why we were broadcasting the farm report from Kansas. We had made the decision that it might take a couple days for us to get the Radio Talking Book running at 100% and that another radio reading service (Kansas Audio Reader) was better than having nothing at all on the air,” Radio Talking Book said in a statement.
“Observant people will also notice that many of the books that we listed in July are actually airing in August. They could not air in July; they had been scheduled during that three week period when we were off the air. We are very glad to be back and we’re glad that you have stayed with us as our listening family.”
For state private nonprofits and state agencies there was mixed news. State funding has been preserved or maintained at some level, although future allocations may be made on a competitive basis. For others, planning has had to start with cuts. Clients statewide are being notified of higher drug and service costs, of cutbacks and some services being discontinued. One organization that was saved with the legislative special session is Advocating Change Together (ACT) and its Remembering With Dignity program. ACT, which provides self-advocates statewide with a variety of services, had had all its operating funds threatened during the regular session. ACT has already downsized in a tough economy and more cuts in service were feared.
Not only was ACT’s funding preserved during the special session, its Remembering With Dignity (RWD) project had a $330,000 allocation put into the bonding bill. The bonding bill will help Remembering with Dignity continue its mission of placing grave markers, with names and dates, on the 13,000-plus graves of Minnesotans who died while in state institutions. At hospitals and residential facilities, headstones were tiny markers with numbers –if there were headstones at all. Remembering With Dignity’s mission is to make sure those graves have proper names as well as years of birth and death. ACT’s Co-Director Rick Cardenas said “the organization is pleased that its funding was spared and that Remembering With Dignity can continue its mission.”
Another agency that was pleased with the special session’s outcome was the Region 10 Quality Assurance Program. The program will receive $200,000 over the next two years. A statewide quality council will receive $130,000 over that period. The quality assurance efforts are focused on developing and implementing processes that significantly enhance the quality of life for persons with developmental disabilities. Centers for independent living around the state also were spared. They had faced a $222,000 cut over the next two years.
Employment programs also fared better than expected. Vocational rehabilitation had its funding increased by $4 million, which is welcome news. Programs that help people with disabilities find work were spared greater cuts than projected initially. The Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development and Governor’s Workforce Development Council were asked to develop a competitive grant program for workforce development programs serving people with disabilities and people transitioning from public assistance to the workforce.
Other agencies took significant cuts. One cut advocates will watch closely is the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which will take a cut of $340,000 over the next two years. While that is far less than a proposed $4.3 million cut it still will have an impact on services.
Here is how other areas fared.
The education legislation is varying on children with disabilities. One key change eliminates the set aside under the “safe school” levy to pay for licensed school counselors, licensed school nurses, licensed school social workers, licensed school psychologists, and licensed alcohol and chemical dependency counselors.
Special education funding is left at the current level, with a 4% growth factor, rather than the 2% proposed.
Another change centers on use of restraints, as well as providing state leaders with more information on use of restraints. Until August 1, 2012, a school district may use prone restraints under certain conditions. Districts must provide state officials with a list of staff members who have been specifically trained to use such restraints, as well as specific information on training. Only those staff members will be allowed to use the restraints. Districts must also follow specific reporting criteria.
Numerous changes will affect people who have a mentally illness and rely on state services. NAMI Minnesota has analyzed the legislation and did find some bright spots. For example, several grants that had been threatened during the regularly session with cuts were spared.
This includes adult mental health crisis grants and culturally specific services grants. Some cuts were made but were less than originally propose. For example, grants for adult psychiatric hospital contract beds were cut by $400,000. A previous bill made a $1.33 million cut.
Children’s mental health screening grants were cut by $200,000, less than the $3.81, million previously proposed. Adult mental health grants were cut by $13.54 million(10%) but only for the next two years. A previous bill had proposed the same cut but extended it into the future. Children and Community Services Act (CCSA) grants were cut by $22 million, the same as in the previous bill. The act is renamed the “Vulnerable Children and Adults Act” and all the funding will go to pay for child protection and to protect vulnerable adults. Previously, 16% of CCSA funds had gone to children’s mental health and 6% had gone to adult mental health which will no longer be the case. The money will be distributed to individual counties based on a new formula.
Chemical dependency and adult mental; health facilities face varying levels of licenses increases, as do mental health centers and clinics.
The legislation that was passed called for a number of reports and studies over the next several months. The Commissioner of Human Services will have to report to the legislature on how the Community Behavioral Health Hospitals (CBHH) are being fully utilized to meet the needs of their particular region. This effort must address how to use CBHH’s with less than 65% occupancy that are not Medicaid eligible and how these facilities can be used for a different purpose to meet the mental health needs of their region. Legislation prevents the commissioner from closing the Willmar CBHH before March 31, 2012.
Another report state lawmakers requested requires the commissioner to issue a report about the number of management-level employees as well as the ratio of management to direct-care staff at Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center and the Minnesota Security Hospital at St. Peter.
The commissioner must also develop a plan to provide care coordination for children with mental illnesses who required more than $100,000 in care during the past year.