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Advocates rally at Capitol to keep needed mental health services

“No funding, no future,
No funding, no future!
Awareness saves lives,
Awareness saves lives!”
Hundreds of mental health advocates covering three stories rallied in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday urging that Mi

“No funding, no future,

No funding, no future!

Awareness saves lives,

Awareness saves lives!”

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Hundreds of mental health advocates covering three stories rallied in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday urging that Minnesota’s $5 billion budget deficit be fixed without gutting state services for the mentally ill.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, among a dozen other speakers, made the case for a “balanced approach” to solving the state’s shortfall that would include tax increases on Minnesota’s highest earners. By increasing revenue, he said, some of the cuts Republicans are expected to propose in the coming weeks could be avoided.

“These are important services that make a difference in people’s lives,” Dayton said.

A vetoed GOP proposal that would have reduced spending by about $900 million included at least $39 million in cuts to projected Human Services spending for the next budget cycle. The next round of proposed cuts likely will be far more dramatic.

Officials at the demonstration urged protesters to contact their representatives and fight for such services as affordable housing, MinnesotaCare, crisis services and mental health programs.

Before the most recent economic forecast – which projects a $1.2 billion smaller deficit than previously anticipated – even Dayton’s proposed budget included cuts to nursing homes and MinnesotaCare, a low-income health care option.

“We are looking at an erosion of services if we don’t take action,” said Ed Eide, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Minnesota. “It’s critical you share your story of recovery with your legislator.”

One young student, Cooper Johnson of South High School in Minneapolis, told the cheering crowd about the disturbing thoughts and anxiety he began experiencing as a child. After “self-medicating” with marijuana throughout adolescence, Johnson sought counseling and drug therapy.

Now a member of the Silver Ribbon Campaign, which informs students about mental illness, Johnson said he’s realized “there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not going to go insane and hurt my family.”

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“I’m not disappointed I woke up [anymore],” the high school junior said. “I’m excited.”

Calls to action from such lawmakers as House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and Rep. Tina Liebling mingled with impassioned speeches from community leaders and individuals with mental illness.

But one voice stood apart from the decidedly partisan cheers that dominated the event.

GOP Rep. Jim Abeler, chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, spoke to the protesters about the difficult decisions facing lawmakers.

“We are in this together,” he said.

Abeler has a two-week deadline before he must pass targeted budget reductions through his committee. He requested this of the protesters: “When you see my ideas, take them as ideas.”

After the rally, Abeler said that under the “no new revenue” approach, he’ll be looking to reform and better management to plug some of the shortfall. He said both Republicans and DFLers have mismanaged Health and Human Services spending in the past.