A proposal cut $150 million in state health and human services spending has Minnesotans with disabilities and their advocacy groups converging on the state capitol. Protests erupted after legislators returned from the Easter/Passover break April 2.
People lined the capitol steps and filled space outside the chambers, waving signs and chanting “No more cuts!” Demonstrations, rallies and calls to pack hearing rooms are likely to continue throughout the session as the cuts take shape.
Anger over possible cuts is widespread. It comes at a time when many other issues, including unionization of health care workers, for funding for specific programs and changes tied to the federal Affordable Care Act, are still in play. What frustrates many in Minnesota’s disability community is that they didn’t anticipate a DFL-controlled House and Senate to propose spending reductions on some of the state’s poorest residents, especially at a time when about $2 billion in additional tax revenue is proposed.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who has made the revenue-raising proposals, isn’t suggesting severe cuts.
Over the past two years Health and Human Services budgets sustained more than $1 billion in reductions.
There had been hopes that the DFL leadership would hold the line on further cuts or even find new funding. But a state deficit of $627 million is having an impact, as are other spending demands.
Some lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, are urging the disability community to continue to lobby to prevent cuts. While House and Senate leadership say they can decrease the human services budget without affecting Minnesota’s most vulnerable residents, and that the proposed cuts represent less than 1 percent of the total budget. House Speaker Paul Thissen has said the budget can be held in check without undermining the social services safety net.
Caregivers are especially concerned about the impact of cuts, noting that many people who provide care have not had a cost-of-living wage increase over the past four years. They noted that the work they do, and the use of group homes, saves the state money.
“Does it really take one of us to have a family member who’s disabled to get it, to be sensitive?” Norm Munk of Partnership Resources and president of the Minnesota Organization for Habitation and Rehabilitation told the media.
Writer and illustrator Marrie Bottelson has cerebral palsy and lives in a group home. She handed out a ‘zine she wrote and illustrated, and spoke with the aid of a computer. “I feel like they are saying ‘I don’t care about you. You’re not worth it. It makes me so mad. I live, work and contribute to the well-being of my community too. I am not ‘the wheelchair’ or ‘that poor disabled girl.’”
The Arc Minnesota stated, “These proposals should not go forward without strong objections from the disability community. Human services require adequate funding to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
$150 million less for human services can mean more cuts to disability services; an inability to fund much needed wage increases for direct care staff; or worse yet, possible wage cuts; continued waits by thousands of Minnesotans for the services to help them live independently; parental fees that are still too high; and an inability to meet the needs of the rising number of people diagnosed with autism.”
The Arc Minnesota states that it agrees with legislators’ push for funding for all students, but doesn’t want to see students with and without disabilities pitted against each other.
Here’s a look at some other issues at the capitol:
• A request for up to $8 million in funding for spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury research got a favorable reception April 4 from the Senate Health and Human Services Finance Committee.
The bill would provide $8 million over fiscal years 2014 and 2015 for research. The committee did agree to cut administration funding from as much as $320,000 to $150,000. Senators said they want to see more money spent on research and not administration.
The bill is named for Jake Jablonski and Gabe Roderick, two young men with recent spinal cord injuries.It has been controversial as some opponents contend it could take away funding for care of people with disabilities. “It was never my intention to cut services with this bill,” said bill author Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis).
One theme of the April 4 testimony was how much the state could save over time if research provides advancements in treatment. Hayden estimates that services for people with both forms of injury top the $1.5 billion mark per year.
Excelsior resident Rob Wudlick broke his neck April 4, 2011, while rafting in the Grand Canyon. He is a quadriplegic. “I’m trying to get my body back,” he said.
Wudlick and Matthew Rodreick, Gabe’s father, testified that research that provides even incremental mobility improvements could save the state money on long-term care, as people would potentially regain abilities.
Several senators said they are inclined to support the bill, but cautioned Hayden and supporters that with tight state budgets, funding could be a challenge. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) commended supporters for their approach to the bill and for taking a “sensible, reasonable approach.”
“This time for this bill has come,” Kiffmeyer said.
• A base funding increase for Minnesota’s Centers for Independent Living (CILs) was heard in mid-March by the House Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Funding Division. The increase would be up to $2.5 million. David Hancox, Executive Director of Metro Center for Independent Living (MCIL) presented the request with support from three people who use MCIL services. The increase is being considered for inclusion in the larger funding bill.
• Legislation that would allow home care workers the right to form a union continues to make its way through the legislative process. During the month of March the bill was passed through eight House and Senate committees. People with disabilities, their family members and their home care workers have testified in support of the bill at each hearing. No recipients or home care workers have spoken in opposition to the bill, although there is opposition from fiscal support entities.
The measure is expected to continue through committees this month. One part of the bill would create a Quality Self-Directed Services Workforce Council, with a majority of members being people who receive direct support services. The council would advise the commissioner of human services on steps that the state should take to ensure the quality, stability, and availability of the direct support workforce.
The bill protects the rights of people who receive services to select, hire, direct, supervise, and terminate the employment of their workers. It also recognizes that home care workers are essential employees who would not have the right to strike.
• Anti-bullying measures sparked intense debate last month, over costs as well as expectations of what schools should do. Rep. Jim Davnie DFL-Minneapolis) said the state’s current anti-bullying statue is weak and ineffective.
He has brought forward a bill which would create a “strong, comprehensive” state policy against bullying. But critics say many schools already have strong policies in place, and that the measure is too broad. It narrowly got through the House Education Finance Committee and was sent on to Ways and Means.
Bullying is a critical issue for many children and young people with disabilities. The bill defines bullying and would specifically prohibit it on the basis of characteristics such as sexual orientation, religion, and race. School districts would be required to adopt either a state model policy or a local policy that met specific criteria. School districts would have to name a point person in every school building to handle bullying complaints, investigate reports of bullying that disrupted the education process, and provide ongoing anti-bullying training to their staff and volunteers. But critics said it is too broad and confusing, and has potential additional costs for schools.