That state budget was nothing to be proud of

  • Article by: PAT MELLENTHIN
  • Updated: July 26, 2011 - 9:07 PM

Health and human services will now reel from a painful blow in Minnesota.

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Sen. Amy Koch got a big hug from Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers after a special session at the Capitol in St. Paul , Minn., Wednesday, July 20, 2011.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Counterpoint

State Rep. Jim Abeler writes in his July 21 commentary ("A job well done on health, human Services") that the bill "minimized reductions to disability services." This is an overstatement, to say the least.

We understood going into the 2011 legislative session that funding for human services would likely take its share of cuts, but this bill is far more disappointing than we imagined, in a number of ways.

Under the final health and human services (HHS) budget, hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars that would have paid for services for persons with disabilities in the community will be lost.

Some of these cuts are cruel and unwise and could force Minnesotans with disabilities into nursing homes or other institutions, which will only add to the state's future budget woes.

We understand and support the need to reform the way we serve people with disabilities, and there are some sensible reforms in this bill. But other changes make no sense, are too drastic, are incredibly unfair, and will cause great hardship and even harm to thousands of Minnesotans.

In one of the bill's "reforms," people who serve as personal care attendants for a relative for whom they are not legally responsible will have their hourly wage cut by 20 percent.

Abeler wrote that "we accomplished our work without surcharges and without taxes."

But I am sure these individuals would beg to disagree. To them, this 20 percent reduction surely feels like a substantial tax increase.

How is it fair to impose this burden on some of our lowest-paid health care workers? The 20 percent wage cut will be especially hard on many in Greater Minnesota, where having a relative provide care is frequently the only option.

It will create a financial hardship, a disincentive for family members to continue providing this care, and a future disincentive for anyone who wants to support their family member as an alternative to institutional care that will cost the state far, far more. This "reform" will also cause us to lose $24 million in funding.

Another "reform" will enroll Minnesotans with disabilities in managed care, with an option for them to opt out.

This proposal was passed without any hearing or discussion about its impact on the health care of these individuals. It merely allows the state to "save" millions over the next two years by delaying payments to managed-care organizations. It's a shift, not a true savings.

The managed-care measure is also an example of legislation created behind closed doors in a Capitol that was locked to its citizens. This provision lacked any public input and review, and the entire human services bill was passed by legislators who didn't have time to read it, let alone fully understand the impacts.

Other parts of the human services bill would make the state backpedal on one of its real -- and successful -- reforms over the past three decades: the commitment to services that help people with disabilities live in and contribute to their communities.

These services saw cuts from all sides.

There was a reduction in rates the state pays for these services; a cut to counties for funds that help them pay for unexpected increases in needs of their residents with disabilities who live in the community; another cut to counties that helps them fund programs such as respite care for parents, and a decrease in the number of new services available to the 3,600 Minnesotans who currently wait for them (technically called "waivered services").

Minnesotans deserve better. The Arc Minnesota and its allies support reform and innovation that promotes the full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into their communities and uses state dollars most effectively.

Arbitrary cuts in service do not promote reform and innovation, but they do threaten the health and safety of Minnesotans with disabilities.

The HHS bill that has just been signed into law is not something to be proud of. It is a sad statement of how our leaders chose to protect those with the most, while placing the bulk of the burden for balancing the state's budget on the backs of those who have so little and already face overwhelming challenges in life.

Pat Mellenthin is chief executive officer for The Arc Minnesota, a statewide organization that advocates for and provides support to people with developmental disabilities and their families.

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