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Sen. Berglin

Sen. Berglin

Courtesy, Sen. Berglin's office

Sen. Linda Berglin: State GOP's cuts target the vulnerable

  • Article by: LINDA BERGLIN
  • February 1, 2011 - 7:15 PM

Commentary

When the legislative session began in early January, Republican leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate pledged to protect funding for children, for the disabled and for those who are unable to take care of themselves.

Less than a month later, these same Republican leaders are on the verge of ramming through legislation that will cut state funding for the treatment and protection of Minnesota's most vulnerable children.

They're proposing to take away nearly one-quarter of all state funding that helps counties pay for child protection services and support for families with children facing developmental disabilities and mental illness.

The proposed cuts are aimed at the state's Child and Community Services grant program. Funding for this program supports key services to several vulnerable populations.

Hennepin County, for example, spends 100 percent of these grants for children's mental health services and protection for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.

The cuts to this program that have been proposed by Republicans would save the state $27 million, or about one-half of 1 percent of the state's $6.2 billion budget deficit.

But it would represent nearly a 25 percent cut to funding for these critical services.

According to Republican leaders, the reductions merely continue budget cuts approved by legislators during the Pawlenty administration. The reality is that most of the previous cuts were made because one-time federal dollars were available at the time to help keep the programs running.

Let's be clear: Making these cuts permanent without these federal dollars will result in real cuts to crucial programs.

In this case, it will force already overstretched county social workers to spend less time with children facing neglect or abuse and require counties to cut back on mental health care for underinsured families.

Despite these consequences, Republican leaders have recklessly rammed this bill through the legislative process.

The entire package -- $1 billion in reductions that will raise property taxes, raise college tuition and slash funding for child protection -- received exactly one 90-minute committee hearing, with a scant 15 minutes of public testimony.

It was never even heard in the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, the very committee charged with funding programs for vulnerable children. If this bill passes, it will be without hearing from the counties that will lose the funding or from the families that rely on these critical services.

It's hard to understand why the new Republican majority has targeted child protection services in its first round of budget cuts, especially given the pledge to protect kids, the disabled and those unable to care for themselves.

Perhaps, generously, we could assume that these legislators just don't understand the impacts of their proposal.

Or, perhaps, they're counting on Gov. Mark Dayton's veto pen to protect them from having to face the consequences of their bill, and hoping his veto will allow them to paint him as unwilling to cut spending during this difficult budget discussion.

Either way, they have given Minnesotans absolutely no reason to support this plan.

However they justify their proposal, the new Republican leaders at the Capitol need to understand that setting the state's budget is not a simple exercise in arithmetic.

Decisions we make in St. Paul impact families throughout the state, especially decisions relating to the well-being of children and those facing serious medical difficulties.

I'm not sure why Republicans are rushing this bill through the Legislature, but it is a mistake. It will jeopardize the health and safety of kids throughout our state, and is breaking a promise that isn't even a month old.

Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.

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