MN Nightmare is Over
- Created on Wednesday, 20 July 2011 15:39
Minnesota's collective nightmare is over. The legislature adjourned its special session this morning at 3:45 a.m. after quickly passing 12 bills and, now, Governor Dayton will sign the batch into law which will release state appropriations as early as tomorrow and Friday. The breakdown is over.
First the good news. JRLC and its allies successfully stopped the safety net cuts to General Assistance and MFIP, which is a huge success and is a direct result of all the lobbying we've been doing since January. Our lobby visits, vigils, rallies, letters and emails, letters-to-the-editor, and face-to-face meetings with the Governor, key legislators, and Commissioner Jesson and her staff all added up to this outcome. A million thanks to all of you in the JRLC and iCAN networks. In the interest of full disclosure, there are some small eligibility changes to GA, but the programs are intact and grants to clients are basically funded at forecasted levels. Is was a real pleasure to work with all the folks at Affirmative Options Coalition, MN Coalition for the Homeless, Catholic Charities, Children's Defense Fund, A Minnesota Without Poverty, St. Stephens Human Services, and Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy.
We also stopped the legislature's original policy to end health insurance coverage for 140,000 Minnesotans. Eligibility for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare is mostly preserved. This also was the direct result of your work! If you ever doubt whether the voices of faithful citizens matter, look at the way the health care debate turned from simply downsizing the numbers of people on public health care programs, to finding some creative ways to take advantage of the state's bargaining power with providers and health plans, and taking advantage of new opportunities afforded by the new federal health care law. Clearly the heath care system will creak and strain under the pressure of reimbursement rate cuts and some pieces of the reform will require many sacrifices, but the corner seems to have turned away from using an ax for surgery on the system. We will be very watchful of the new Minnesota Care voucher option for single adults over 200 percent of poverty.
Child care programs were hit hard, both in terms of funding child care services and grant programs to ensure programs. The loss is over $58 million to families and child care providers statewide over the next four years. This is really distressing given what we know about the efficacy and financial soundness of investing early in our little ones. Learning: we simply must build a stronger constituency in the faith community for child care in all its forms. Please get involved in our children's issue network, iCAN right now!
Housing and homelessness programs fared pretty well. In general base funding for housing services was preserved, but one-time money in the last budget was not replaced.
We did see some strange legislating on the EBT cards (Electronic Benefit Transfer). The new law means that the food portion and the cash portion of public assistance grants will be split into two separate cards (costing more money to manage) so the state can restrict purchases of alcohol, tobacco, and tattoos with state-funded dollars. So much for liberty, freedom, and the power of consumer choice if you happen to need help through a crisis. The tattoo story is particularly weird — the issue seemed to surface with a series of news stories in other states citing cases of welfare dollars being used for tattoos, but none of the stories were from Minnesota and the Department of Human Services couldn't find one instance of this occurring. It really looks like an issue trumped up by national groups who wrote press releases and pitched stories to local media with the intent to erode public support for economic assistance programs.
Unfortunately, the $200,000 line item for streamlining the public benefit system was dropped, and the asset test for cars for MFIP participants was lowered to $10,000.
The big non-health care savings occurred in the delivery of services to struggling families. The MFIP consolidated fund was reduced by $20 million over the biennium, greatly reducing what case management services counties will be able to offer. Also the Community and Child Services Act which funds county-based services to prevent or address neglect and abuse was reduced by $22 million.
There are many more details to be parsed out, and the litany of budget cuts is long, but all in all, given the budget parameters determined by the Governor, the Speaker, and the Majority Leader I think its fair to say that vulnerable people were protected more than systems, but not without a lot of sacrifice.
Let's be clear, the revenue that allows much pain to be averted comes from borrowing, and this is bad public finance and forces the next legislature to face the very same structural imbalance. We did not prevail on getting a progressive source of revenue into the Health and Human Services bill, but JRLC helped shape the debate about the human dignity and human needs of people on the margins of our community.
P.S. I just learned the Governor signed all the bills. Fini, for now.