Representative Abeler, committee members, good morning my name is John Wayne Barker and I am the Executive Director of Merrick, Inc.
After a review of the bill I agree with your focus on client choice and long-term meaningful system reform. But the devil is in the details which are still unclear to me because of the plan to reduce spending by $1.6 billion and I am uncertain how you can get to those savings without making severe cuts to services in the interim. Further, I am concerned that the reforms you seek will not come fast enough to generate the savings called for and will in fact set us back decades in terms of the quality of supports and community integration that we have achieved in Minnesota. It is important to remember that these cuts are being considered because of a budget deficit as the state rebalances its expenses with revenue and not because there is substantiated abuse or excessive use by recipients, their families, or providers. Said another way, the money being spent now is absolutely needed to deliver essential services to the elderly and people with disabilities today. Yet, we have a state budget deficit that must be fixed and your committee is looking for solutions.
It is exciting to see the focus on client choice through initiatives like self-directed options, case management reform, and my life my choices legislation. To be successful, legislators, policymakers, and providers will have to genuinely believe that the elderly and people with disabilities are valued citizens in our communities, do not abuse the system, and are capable of making informed choices that need to be respected. And if we believe in all that, we cannot abandon them while reforming the system.
HFs 1024 and 1054, along with the 3-tiered system briefly discussed in this bill are all worthy reform initiatives that need to be explored. With regard to the 3-tiered system, I would suggest that the committee be allowed to define how many tiers in the system and the essential services in each tier. To these three reform initiatives I would add: ordering a legislative audit of DHS to determine actual expenses and reduce spending so that more funding goes to core services; and establishing a deadline whereby state-operated services are transitioned to the private sector. More detail on these last two suggestions and some other ideas are provided in the flyer I have distributed to the committee.
Even with system reform and the expansion of client choices, I do not see anyway to adequately fund human services without increasing revenues. I know this is objectionable to some committee members and I ask that you not throw out the baby with the bath water. Using Merrick as an example: we have successfully raised client wages and taxes paid each of the last 5 years despite the economic recession; we have built one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the State redirecting savings to program services; over 99% of our clients indicate they benefit from the services they receive; we generate nearly a $3 dollar return for every state dollar invested in our program; and all of this and more was done during a 10-year period when the cumulative inflation rate was 20% and rate increases totaled only 8%.
In closing, what makes human services worth administering, worth receiving, and a price worth paying is the achievement of outcomes that show the elderly, people with disabilities, and society as a whole are better off for the services having been provided. Human service providers across the State accomplish this every day and it would be tragic to destroy the progress in community services and integration that have been made in the last 40 years.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning and your work on the moral document.