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Disability community considers priorities for legislative session

To prepare for a legislative session that is expected to require further cuts in health and human services programs, advocates for people who are disabled outlined their priorities — and concerns — Tuesday at a legislative forum.
Rep.

To prepare for a legislative session that is expected to require further cuts in health and human services programs, advocates for people who are disabled outlined their priorities — and concerns — Tuesday at a legislative forum.

Rep. Thomas Huntley, chair of the Health Care and Human Services Finance Division, told the group that the state’s  $1.2 billion projected deficit — plus new legal questions about the governor’s unallotment process last spring — surely will affect many programs. And that means cuts in programs used by people who have disabilities.

“Many of the services people with disabilities need are paid for by public funds, so we’re always in the cross hairs,” said Anne Henry of the Minnesota Disability Law Center. She said the session starting Feb. 4 looks “dismal,” and the following biennium looks even worse. And cuts from the last session are still taking effect.

“We need to protect those already hurting. An increase in revenue — [increasing taxes] — seems unlikely, but we have to talk about it. We have to find a balanced and reasonable approach,”  she said.

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The forum was organized by the Minnesota State Council on Disability. (Disclaimer: I do some legislative reporting for the Council.)

Rep. Larry Hosch said those in the disability community must be active at the state Capitol in St. Paul this session, to remind lawmakers of their needs and concerns.

“I think it’s going to be a question of asking how do you want your arm cut off. Do you want to do it yourself, or have someone else do it?” Hosch said.

“It’s inevitable that there will be difficult cuts, whether though legislation or through unallotment,” he said. “Participation is vital, so we do it in the  best way possible. There’s nothing better than seeing people in halls of the Capitol and the State Office Building, making sure you don’t get forgotten.”

But even engaging in the process won’t prevent budget cuts.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t lose part of an arm, but maybe we can save some parts of our arms if we can establish that our programs have a positive return on investment — that there is value in our programs that will save money in the long run,” said David Hancox, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Independent Living at a  Wednesday meeting of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities — a  coalition of dozens of groups working together public policy issues.

“There are going to be cuts and we can have it done to us, like in 2009, or we can come to the table with areas that might be more prudent to cut than others,” said Steve Larson of ARC. “Legislators are looking for us to offer advice.”

Said Hancox: “We must be part of the solution, telling them about the value of our programs, but also saying we can sustain this amount of cuts. We’re hearing that our attitude up front will be an indicator of how we come out at the end.”

Some specific priorities outlined by organizations are:

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National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

  • Restoring GAMC is a top priority because 70 percent of those enrolled have mental illness or chemical dependency problems.
  • Insist on maintenance of effort for counties with funding of mental health care.
  • In the criminal justice system, get funding for discharge planning from jails, and make sure that those in the workhouse can access Minnesota Care.
  • Training of police officers and school liaison officers to work with those having mental illness issues.
  • Make sure there is no weakening of recently passed rules on restraints.

Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

  • Safe schools initiative, awareness of anti-bullying efforts.
  • Monitor transportation omnibus bill, and support Complete Streets Coalition efforts to make streets more usable for all.
  • Restore funding for Region 10 quality assurance.

Department of Human Services Board on Aging

  • Improve advocacy and protective services for vulnerable seniors.
  • Combat cuts that are forecast, particularly those that will affect safety.

Brain Injury Association

  • Support increased state revenue, rather than cuts only,  to ease the budget crunch.
  • Monitor cuts in waivers and personal care programs.
  • Maximize use of tax dollars,  look for reforms.
  • Work to prevent motorcycle injuries; they realize there’s not political support for mandatory helmet law, but will look at increased insurance costs for those who ride without helmets.

Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

  • Looking at rules for required reporting by doctors, which can keep some parents from seeking help.
  • More funding for diagnostic clinics.

Advocating Change Together

  • Get funding for Remembering with Dignity project that would provide markers for 7,500 unmarked graves of those who died in state institutions.

 Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota

  • Damage control important, but need personal contact with legislators throughout session.
  • At end of day, decisions will be political, important for legislators to go back and tell good things they did.

Multiple Sclerosis Society

  • Increased access to treatment, physical/occupational and speech therapy, and to prescription drugs, to treat MS.
  • Support care givers by creating care giver coalition.

Courage Center

  • Pushing for a Medical Assistance rehab buyback bill, which would lessen cuts from last session to 4.5 percent  rather than 6.5 percent.

Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities

  • Working with Vulnerable Adult group to increase protections for vulnerable adults, particularly financial abuse.  Also hope to increase penalties for attacks by care givers.
  • Background checks on PCAs, to make sure those who provide care are screened.

MSCOD

  • Bill to make clear that accessibility provisions of building code apply state wide.