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MN2020 - Repair 2011’s Damage, Protect Rights in 2012
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Repair 2011’s Damage, Protect Rights in 2012

January 12, 2012 By Steve Larson, Guest Commentary

The last decade has brought nothing but “bad news budgets” for Minnesotans with disabilities, forcing advocates to play defense when it comes to maintaining services and protecting rights.

Here’s the good news. If the state’s projected $876 million surplus remains, expands, or doesn’t shrink much, we are hopeful that Minnesotans with disabilities will survive to at least July 2013 without facing further cuts.

Unfortunately, the state’s so far in debt, there’s little chance any surplus will restore 2011’s most devastating cuts (see the list below). The entire $876 million will replenish state reserves. Future revenue boosts will pay back school borrowing.

Still, we should devote this session to repairing that damage, beating back efforts restricting the rights of people with disabilities in 2012, and reforming disability services in the face of long-term funding threats.

Six months after this biennium’s cuts took effect, we’ve already witnessed their devastation. Home-based service reductions have isolated Minnesotans with disabilities and their families. Many service providers have also made deep cuts, with some fearing they will have to close their doors.

In the 2012 Legislative Session, we want to see funds restored to the thousands of PCAs getting a pay cut as they support their relatives with disabilities, who often have no one else to provide that support. We also want to see the cuts to “low needs” individuals restored. About 2,600 Minnesotans receiving services in the community are affected, including 900 individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and many others with a diagnosis of mental illness. It will cost about $38 million to restore these two cuts.

Even if further cuts are avoided, 2012 will still be a challenge in protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

Last session, a bill to eliminate more than 50 laws and about 30 regulations that protect students with disabilities and their families failed to pass. Legislators plan to introduce similar measures this session. By doing so, they will jeopardize education services for students with disabilities and restrict their parents’ voice on education policy and services.

Adults with disabilities will have to overcome unnecessary hurdles to exercise their right to vote should we pass voter ID laws. The League of Women Voters Minnesota estimates that about 27,000 Minnesotans (10 percent of people with disabilities) would be affected. Citizens in states that have adopted voter ID laws have already run into barriers, resulting in voter suppression.

Instead of cutting people from services, policymakers should focus on reforms that will cut delivery costs to weather projected state budget deficits in future biennia. Modifications should focus on providing people with disabilities the right services at the right time in the right place, so we can create better lives at a better value for our public funding.

One successful reform is Minnesota’s Housing Access Services (HAS). So far, it moved 343 people with disabilities into homes of their own. These folks were ready to be more independent and didn’t need all the support they received before.

On average, HAS will save taxpayers $50,000 per year for each person who moves, as long as they stay in that more independent living situation. We also know that people who have more control over their budgets and staff for their services—a program formerly called “consumer-directed community supports”—save thousands of tax dollars and are more satisfied with their supports.

Besides increasing access to the above programs, Minnesota policymakers have other avenues to improve our services in the long term. They can implement legislation already passed that would expand services giving people with disabilities and their families more control—“self-directed services.”

State human services staff members are also developing a proposal to submit to the federal government that would waive some requirements for disability services. This could further increase self-direction, improve lives, and cut costs all at the same time.

Disability advocates have another full plate for the 2012 Legislative Session. Instead of always having to play defense and protect against budget cuts, we have a chance to create real positive change for people with disabilities and their families.

Steve Larson is The Arc Minnesota’s Senior Policy Director. The Arc Minnesota is a non-profit organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

 

  • A 20% wage cut for personal care attendants (PCAs) who provide services to relatives.
  • A 10% cut in rates to services to individuals with disabilities judged to be “low need.”
  • Continued limits on enrollment in programs that help people with disabilities live more independently in the community.
  • A cut in rates for a variety of community-based services funded by Medical Assistance.
  • A cut in funding to counties that normally covers expenses for unexpected increases in needs of some residents with disabilities served in the community.
  • A cut to funds for the counties that help fund, among other services, supports to people with disabilities and their families like respite care and county-funded day training and habilitation services.
  • Cuts to grants for adults and children who have mental illness.
     

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