Update: Minnesota Legislature 2001

As a follow-up to last month?s brief response to the impact of Governor Jesse Ventura?s 2001 budget proposal, Access Press presents the following very brief update on legislative activities, based on reports from disability advocates active at the Capitol.  This month we give a few details on Metro Mobility, the Workforce Crisis in home health and community-based care, the Consumer Support Grants Program, and Special Education.  Next month we hope to give further updates on these issues, plus information on things not addressed this month, including the waiting list for community services for people with developmental disabilities, the Medical Assistance for Employed Persons With Disabilities program, prescription drug coverage, and the 100% Campaign, among others.

Metro Mobility

Advocates continue to report problems and delays with Metro Mobility, indicating that, despite notable successes in the lobbying efforts of advocates for the disabled, there is still a long way to go to have the type of paratransit system that our citizens need.  One of the most significant successes is the recent proposal by the Governor of full funding for the Metro Mobility system, which we reported last month.

Additional successes include: advocating that the Metropolitan (Met) Council undertake long-range planning for the system for the first time in its history, a projected increase in the Metro Mobility fleet for the first time in eight years; an 11 percent increase in the requested allocation for the biennium from the Met Council; trip denials are now being counted according to the Federal Transit Administration?s interpretation of the ADA; the Met Council has requested an additional $2 to $3 million to address directly the issue of trip denials; they have invited advocates to be a part of the budget process for the first time in history; and sufficient money will be allocated in the new provider contracts for an increase in driver wages.

Workforce Crisis

Bi-partisan members from both the State Senate and House of Representatives wasted no time in introducing legislation for rate increases for home care workers, despite the minimal amount proposed in the Governor?s budget.  Senator Samuelson (DFL) and Representative Goodno (IR) introduced identical bills — S.F.372 & H.F.559 — requiring a 6% increase in Year One and 6% increase in Year Two of the biennium.  This will help address our current workforce crisis by helping to attract and retain caregivers for people who receive home and community-based services through Medical Assistance.  Eighty percent of the proposed increase is to be used to raise wages and related costs for direct care staff.

A hearing for S.F. 372 was already held in February in the Senate Health and Family Security Committee.  The bill passed unanimously and was referred to the Health Finance Committee.  Due to the large size of this proposed increase and the breadth of services it covers, it is likely that we will see smaller rate increases each year than currently proposed.  This amount will, in part, be influenced by the number of phone calls, letters, and personal visits made by people who want to see this legislation passed.  This means caregivers,  providers and recipients of these services have a chance to directly impact the final outcome!  If you care about this bill, it is important for you to contact your State Representative and Senator.  Tell them in your own words how this legislation would help you if it passed or hurt you if it didn?t.

Consumer Support Grants

As reported last month, the Governor?s Department of Human Services (DHS) budget proposal limits the state-funded Consumer Support Grant (CSG) Program to 200 persons.    It is expected that the number of persons using the CSG Program will exceed 200 before the end of the legislative session.  DHS thus far has not revealed whether or not they will cut persons from the program, and, if so, how such termination decisions would be made.

The CSG Program is being increasingly utilized, especially by families of children with significant disabilities, due to the crisis in obtaining staff from agencies to provide services.  Unfortunately, only 14 counties have decided to offer this safety net service.  Many persons with disabilities across Minnesota would like to use this service but their counties have not agreed to offer it.  Representative Fran Bradley (HF 1064) and Senator Leo Foley (SF 963) have introduced bills which would require counties across the state to offer the CSG Program.  DHS would be required to contract with other counties or agencies to administer this CSG Program in counties unwilling to participate by September 1, 2001.  Clearly, expanding the CSG Program statewide runs counter to the Governor?s proposal to limit the program to 200 people.

Special Education

As reported last month, no new funding for special education is provided for in this legislative session.  Instead, the Governor would like to put pressure on the federal level to fund 40% of pupil costs.  Advocates are concerned that legislators do not understand the necessity for increased funding at the State level.

House Bill #447 and Senate Bill #768 will establish parity between kids in care facilities and kids in the public education system.  For children in the care facilities, they will receive educational services within the first three days of their stay, as opposed to the current 2-3 week delay before education services begin.  Also, these bills will require that school days will have to be as long as the days in the local school district, whereas a child in the care facility typically receives only one hour of instruction each day.

The House has discussed the ADHD legislation (Sen. 447, House 768) that moves for alternative treatment before prescribing amphetamine prescription drugs, such as Ritalin, and parents who refuse an evaluation cannot be charged with educational neglect.

A bill will be introduced to allow paraprofessionals to do clerical paperwork for special education teachers, freeing more time for them to focus on students.