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Bark’s Bytes #8 | Sand Line

 

From everything I have heard and read, citizens of Minnesota are unhappy with the continuing degradation of the quality of life in our State.  Yet the Governor, and some legislators, seem intent on funding reductions to balance the State’s budget in spite of the negative consequences that most Minnesotans find objectionable.  It really is time for each of us to acknowledge that more funding cuts crosses the “line in the sand” and we need to send a message to the 2010 Legislature that enough-is-enough.  It is time to find more revenue and make funding reductions with a scalpel and not an axe; and to realize that spending on health and human services not only meets our social contract to care for our most vulnerable citizens – it is also a huge investment in our State’s economy.

The following is Merrick’s 2010 Legislative Agenda approved by our Board of Trustees on March 10, 2010, and some suggestions on how to take action.

No further reduction in Medicaid (MA) or Children’s and Community Service Act (CCSA) rates.  No further limits on waiver slots.  Restore or sustain services as much as possible.

The Governor’s supplemental budget recommendation proposes a 2.5% rate reduction for home and community based waiver programs, home care services such as personal care, nursing facilities, ICF/MR homes, and continuing care grants effective July 1, 2010 on top of the 2.58% enacted last year.  Make sure legislators understand what DT&H programs do and how additional cuts will negatively impact the people we serve.  Urge a balanced approach to balancing the state budget that includes fair and sensible cuts that requires all Minnesotans to share the burden.  Make sure that $81 million “claw back” from federal MA spending goes to support human service expenses and not other operating expenses.  Support increases in revenues that will allow us to continue to invest wisely in the future of Minnesota and to fund the priorities that have made Minnesota a strong and vibrant state and provides opportunity for all Minnesotans.  Oppose cuts that put our most vulnerable citizens at further risk or further erode their ability to live independently as valued members of the community.  Cuts in human service funding are a form of taxation that targets our most vulnerable citizens.  Instead we need innovation that will provide sustainable solutions that:

Expand systems and supports that give clients greater control over their funding, staffing, and living arrangements.
Focus on the participation and values of the person with a disability and work to ensure quality cost effective supports.
 

Use current regulatory reform agenda, prompted by federal oversight, to redesign state and local government agencies administering MA, waiver, and related programs; and redirect more resources directly to consumers.

In the face of continued fiscal constraints, encourage legislators to push the Department of Human Services (DHS) to press for comprehensive reorganization that will reduce administrative costs without jeopardizing appropriate oversight and free-up resources for direct service.  Where are the cuts in government overhead and administration?

Ramsey County must ensure an appropriate funding level for adequate day services chosen by the individual which meet their needs as stated in their individual service plan.  CCSA should be amended to require the county to fund day services unless it can show a compelling reason, other than the availability of CCSA funds, to deny the provision of these services.

Encourage more employment opportunities by state government

Our industry trade associations (MnDACA, MHC and MACRO) are pursuing legislation to require that the state award more contracts to people with disabilities for digital imaging and other services.  State government needs to walk its own talk and we need opportunities to generate non-government revenue.

Insurance reform for transport

Representative Gardner has authored H.F. 298 and Senator Dibble has authored the companion bill S.F. 2814 to encourage more efficient and environmentally responsible transportation.  Current insurance underwriting, policies, and practices create barriers for efficient transportation of persons with disabilities, particularly adults with developmental disabilities served by DT&H providers.  Support legislation that will remove those barriers.

Quality Assurance and other Statewide Reform Initiatives

Monitor closely to ensure that initiatives deliver desired results, are compliant, responsive to the needs of clients, and fair to providers.

Maintain/reinstate sunshine laws

Ensuring the quality of care and protecting the safety of individuals with disabilities can best be accomplished by limiting 24-hour control of an individual by government and other service providers.  The quality of life for individuals with disabilities is enhanced by having multiple individuals or entities involved in the life of the individual.  It is preferable that the individual leave their residential site for day services of their choice unless documented medical conditions preclude it, the individual has chosen to have a DT&H provider provide services in their own home or residence, or if the individual is retired from work.

Require consistent annual reporting of statewide goals and benchmarks for services and supports not just spending

DT&H statewide survey of wages and hours and other relevant planning information has not been conducted since 2005 and even that survey had inconsistencies in data reported.  More current reports (MN DHS CCA 2007 and Minnesota State Profile 2009 both of long term service system) focus on spending only, not other outcomes like employment, types of employment, hours worked, wages and income earned, and supports required for all of the above.  Create and support initiatives that will demand and ensure regular publication of good data to make good decisions.  Support legislation that requires establishing baselines, goals, outcomes, and measurable benchmarks, so we can determine the progress and impact of our investment in human services, as we work to ensure that people with disabilities have an opportunity to live, learn, and work as independently as possible in their communities.

How can I influence the public policy debate?

As a voter, taxpayer, and person directly impacted by these public policy decisions, your voice is very powerful and the one that has the most credibility with legislators.  Your voice becomes even more powerful when your legislator hears from multiple constituents, each with a unique story or personal touch, but all with a common theme that influences their vote on a matter.  Most people don’t take the time to share their concerns with their legislators, and those that do get heard, particularly when the stories are personal, to the point and heartfelt.

Who represents me and how do I locate my legislators?

Minnesota has great resources to help you identify your legislators.  Go on line and either click on the following link or copy it into your internet browser – http://www.gis.leg.mn/mapserver/districts/

This is the District Finder.  Enter your street address, city, state, and zip code and click search.  The search engine will identify your Minnesota State Representative and State Senator as well as your Federal Congressional Representative and both U.S. Senators for Minnesota.  Now you are ready to take action!

What are some of the key messages I might want to share with my legislators?

No more budget cuts.  Funding for day and employment services is an investment in our community – money well spent that pays the following dividends and must continue:

Meaningful employment, vocational support, and other life enrichment activities that increases independence and self sufficiency, provides an improved sense of self worth, allows persons to make choices about and improve their quality of life, and establishes an important link for a person’s social and support network.
Employing persons with developmental disabilities taps an underutilized labor pool and fosters employment among a segment of the population with the highest rate of unemployment and underemployment.  Our clients rely on our support to obtain and maintain employment.  These services promote diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility in the workplace.
We are an important link in the transportation network for the elderly and persons with disabilities.
These services have a positive ripple effect in the economy through employment of staff and clients alike and the resulting benefits to families and society of the money earned, saved and spent, taxes paid, and more costly welfare expenses avoided.
 

Other tips to get your message heard:

Pick your favorite method of communication – the one most comfortable for you.  Send a letter typed on the computer or handwritten (as long as legible) or send an email.  You can also make a phone call or schedule a personal visit.  Prepare a script to use and even leave behind.
Use your personal stationary or blank paper and include your name and home address (include your telephone number and email address if you want to be contacted that way).  Introduce yourself and why you are interested in the issue.  Only discuss one issue or bill (cite the bill number) per letter.
Use your own words.  The fact that you took the time to craft a personal message is what makes your communication so powerful.  Your tone should be sincere and polite.  Guard against being whiny or aggressive.  State how the issue will impact the clients and/or yourself personally.  Give a personal story about how the legislation will affect you.
Keep it brief and polite – one page if possible.  Identify why you are writing in the heading or first sentence.  Tell the legislator what specifically you want them to do.  Thank the legislator for considering your position, and if desired, request a reply.
Encourage your co workers, family, and friends to do the same.  We have a parent who shared his son’s story in a letter to his church.  Several members were so touched that they too wrote to their legislators protesting further budget cuts to human services.
 

If you care about the quality of life in Minnesota, or you are just simply tired of the political wrangling at the Legislature, it is time to let the politicians know that as a voter your heels are against the line in the sand and you are counting on them to do the right thing for our most vulnerable citizens.

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