Minnesotans with disabilities and many of the services they rely faced an uncertain future when state government shut down July 1. While some key state agencies and functions continued, others were closed or suspended pending appeals.
The situation has been very fluid. State leaders are expected to meet as Access Press went to press right after the July 4 holiday. Check the newspaper website, www.testing.accesspress.org, the Twitter feed and Facebook page for updates.
State government operates on a fiscal year that begins July 1 but with no budget agreement, Gov. Mark Dayton declared the shutdown late June 30, following days of negotiations inside the capitol and protests outside of it. That threw more than 23,000 state employees out of work. If the shutdown continues it will also affect many nonprofit service providers as their funding reserves run out.
The impasse between DFLer Dayton and a Republican-dominated Minnesota Legislature meant there was no agreement on most state department budgets during the 2011 legislative session that ended in May. Talks during June failed to produce any agreement that Dayton felt could be passed during a special session. Dayton has continued to press for a package of spending cuts and new taxes; the Republican leadership refuses to consider any tax increase.
One protest in sweltering heat June 30 drew about 1,000 people, including representatives of Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Merrick, ADAPT and many self-advocates. Time and time again, speakers urged those present to hold up their cell phones and call state lawmakers, urging that a shutdown be adverted. Large signs, shaped like a state of Minnesota with a hole in the center, were signed and then delivered to lawmakers. One of those present was Frances Strong.
“I’m truly worried about the impacts a state shutdown has,” she said. She relies on a personal care attendant and Metro Mobility and fears that a prolonged shutdown could affect her services.
What is and is not shut down is still an open question in some cases. Prior to the shutdown Ramsey County District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled on which state services would be considered essential.
Among essential services allowed to continue include direct care for people with disabilities which includes PCA services. Also considered essential is enrollment in cash, food and health care assistance programs, including those newly eligible for Medicaid/Medical Assistance, Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), Diversionary Work Program (DWP), General Assistance, Minnesota Supplemental Aid, Group Residential Housing, Food Support, MinnesotaCare, Minnesota Food Assistance Program and Adoption Assistance. Quarterly grant payments to counties to support adult mental health initiatives and adult and children’s mental health crisis services were also considered essential, as are pharmacy payment authorizations, services funded through the Alternative Care program, consumer support grants, and home delivered meals for seniors.
What is and isn’t considered essential has caused consternation. Among the many DHS services closed are State Services for the Blind, the Disability and Senior Linkage Lines, the MinnesotaHelp.info website, hearings on DHS appeals, and interpreter referral services for deaf, deaf/blind and hard of hearing Minnesotans. Some grants for housing, food, chemical and mental health services, and other community services are also suspended.
One huge issue is the shutdown of criminal background studies for applicants seeking employment in facilities licensed by DHS and the Minnesota Department of Health and in unlicensed personal care provider organizations. That raised concerns about hiring and forced provisional hiring in many cases. Another worry is that while Minnesota-Care and other state health care provided-services will continue, new providers and new clients cannot be enrolled. Walkup and cashier services aren’t available for clients.
Appeals could change which services are and aren’t closed, Disability service providers were among a stream of groups appeared before retired Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz July 1 to make their case to stay open. Blatz was appointed in June by Gearin to hear appeals. The hearings continued the first full week of July. PCAs agencies made their case for considered essential, the office that does employee criminal background checks. Bruce Nelson, head of the Association of Residential Resources of Minnesota, told Blatz the lack of background checks hampers hiring.
Blatz also heard from the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, which is seeking to have State Services for the Blind reopened. Advocates for individual nonprofits that are losing fund also made their case, including Vail Place, a Hennepin County program for the mentally ill. As Access Press went to press, Blatz was just starting to rule on the groups she had heard from July 1.