By EMILY PIPER
Minnesotans expect government to be there when they need it – whether it’s to provide protection from abuse and neglect for a vulnerable child, medical care for seniors and people with disabilities, or even something as basic as a dentist visit to treat tooth problems for a child living in poverty.
Months ago, with a $1.6 billion surplus, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a budget that would preserve and maintain human services programs that people across Minnesota count on. He invested in child care, child protection and health care, as well as safety and mental health treatment at state-operated facilities such as our Anoka and St. Peter hospitals. He proposed significant reforms to increase efficiencies, cut earmarks and ensure prudent spending of taxpayer dollars.
Earlier this month, the Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature adopted a human services budget that was not the bipartisan package of solutions and reforms that Minnesotans deserve, but rather a fiscally unsound and irresponsible approach. Their budget would be damaging to people and communities across our state.
Fortunately, the governor vetoed this bill, along with several other budget bills. The Legislature’s budget would have hurt everyone, including more than 1.2 million Minnesotans we serve every year – from 1 million who access health care through Medical Assistance, to 25,000 children in the child protection system, the working poor, seniors, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, and all who rely on us to provide a strong safety net for those who need it most.
Under the Legislature’s cuts, fewer people would be served by Anoka State Hospital, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, St. Peter Security Hospital, six community hospitals across greater Minnesota and many other direct care programs. Inspections of daycares and group homes would backlog. Call wait times in our call centers would increase. The cuts would prevent us from serving the people of Minnesota the way they expect and deserve.
Gov. Dayton’s veto blocked these cuts for now. His budget proposal is worth a closer look.
It would help child care providers struggling to stay in business with a rate increase – almost $58 million to help them continue offering affordable, quality care. The Child Care Assistance Program helps 30,000 children, including more than 1,600 in Anoka County alone.
It includes more than $11 million to bring oversight of child care programs into line with a new federal requirement requiring yearly inspections. Right now, we don’t have enough staff to inspect child care facilities every two years. These inspections help fight infectious diseases like the current measles outbreak by making sure operators take appropriate precautions and keep vaccination records for kids in their care.
With reports of child abuse and neglect on the rise, his budget has almost $20 million to improve child protection and foster care, and to move children who can’t return to their families into permanent homes faster. Last year, the child welfare system experienced a dramatic 25 percent increase in reports of child maltreatment.
With far too many Minnesotans shouldering unsustainable costs for health care, the governor’s budget would make MinnesotaCare available for purchase to all Minnesotans, which would increase the choices for affordable, quality coverage across the state.
Access to dental care has become increasingly out of reach for people living in poverty, especially children – so much so that the federal government has identified Minnesota as having some of the country’s worst dental care rates for kids. The governor proposed reforms that would improve access to dental care for over 1 million Minnesotans, including important check-ups for kids to find and treat oral health problems before they become life-changing.
The Legislature’s budget offered little or no help – not for measles outbreaks, child care assistance or child care inspections. Nothing to improve child protection. No MinnesotaCare option for people who need help paying for health insurance or rate increases to ensure care will be there when they need it.
In a year when we have a significant budget surplus, I hope the Legislature will take Gov. Dayton’s veto to heart and work with us to address both pressing needs and to reform the services we deliver. More than 1 million Minnesotans – including the most vulnerable among us – are counting on us to do this work.
Emily Piper is Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services – mn.gov/dhs/