When a feature appears in both the House and Senate versions of a bill, a lobbyist can rest easy, right? Not if you’re Sue Abderholden of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the bill in question is a $12-13 billion health and human services behemoth for 2016-17.
Nearly a $1.5 billion difference exists in total between the House and Senate version of that omnibus bill. A lot of change in one and likely both versions will be required to reconcile them. Big swings look likely – the House backing off a half-billion-dollar repeal of MinnesotaCare, for example, in exchange for Senate acceptance of an additional $138 million in spending for nursing homes.
Abderholden says the mental health advocacy community is worried – with good reason. When the big funding blocks in the two bills start to move, their smaller elements – such as improvements in the state’s mental health system – could be squeezed out. That’s so even though veteran GOP House members were proponents of the House bill’s additional $25 million for better mental health services, and the Senate went farther with a $32 million bid.
Permit a plea: Legislative target-setters should not be so stingy with human services that mental health improvements disappear from the final bill. On the line are more psychiatric hospital beds, earlier intervention and treatment, financial survival for drop-in treatment centers and more, all aimed at saving lives and taxpayer money in the long run. That’s smart spending.
While I’m pleading, here’s another: Monthly grants to this state’s most impoverished families with children – those enrolled in the Minnesota Family Investment Program -- have not been increased since 1986. That’s shameful parsimony. The Senate’s $100/month increase in grants would make life more bearable for families whose average grant today is a meager $353 a month. The House should agree. Minnesota can do better.