The Minnesota Senate signed off on a $11.3 billion budget for the state’s health and human services programs Saturday.
The bill is one of the largest the Legislature will pass in the final days of the 2013 session and it passed on a party-line vote. Among other things, the HHS omnibus includes a 5 percent pay increase for nursing home caregivers who have not gotten a raise in four years. The budget also includes extra funding for in-school mental health care and assistance for families seeking pricey autism therapy for their children.
“This bill is a good bill that moves Minnesota forward,” said Senate Health and Human Services Chairman Tony Loury, DFL-Kerrick, before the Saturday vote.
The bill passed the House Friday night and now moves to the governor's desk for his signature. The new budget year starts in July.
Republicans blasted the bill, both the way it is funded and the things it won’t be funding. In a year when the Democratic leadership is pushing a $2 billion tax bill, Republicans argued that HHS – the part of the budget that serves the oldest, sickest and poorest Minnesotans – shouldn’t have been singled out for $50 million in budget cuts.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, warned that the state’s HHS budget is too reliant on federal funding. The state will receive millions of dollars from Washington to help with the rollout of the new federal Affordable Care Act programs.
Hann said he has no confidence that those funds will be there in the long term. If they go away, he said Minnesota will be left with the bill for new programs designed to ensure that Minnesotans have access to affordable health care and health insurance.
“I think the Health and Human Services budget is really about setting priorities,” Hann said. “We have to talk about reform, how we’re going to meet those priorities in a way that is sustainable. We have to do that in a way that is fiscally disciplined. I think this bill that we have before us fails on all three of those points.”
The health and human services budget took a battering during the recession, including more than a billion dollars’ worth of cuts in the last budget cycle.
“Those were incredibly devastating cuts,” Lourey said. “The cuts last biennium were so deep, we put in words, in our budget, that we were going to discontinue people from cancer treatments … we were going to discontinue people from kidney dialysis. Lifesaving treatments. That was a hard thing to watch.”
The new HHS budget is about 6 percent larger than the current budget. An aging population and rising demand keep pushing the budget higher each year.
In an effort to curb that growth, the DFL leadership called for $150 million in targeted cuts to the health and human services budget. During weekend budget negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton, they reduced that target to $50 million – leaving HHS negotiators with enough extra money to fund pay increased for nursing home workers.
Those proposed sparked an outcry, particularly from the state’s caregivers, who had not seen an increase in their wages in years. The new budget includes $30 million for caregiver raises, Lourey said.