DFL budget targets for health and human services could spell disaster for Greater Minnesota


We’re a bit behind the curve in commenting on this story, but the consequences of budget cuts proposed by DFL leadership in the Minnesota House and Senate don’t look good for the poor and vulnerable in rural areas.

Add a hike in the minimum wage–which Bluestem favors–nursing home and hospital administrators could be in the untenable situation of having to raise wages while receiving smaller checks from the state. These new cuts will come after a round of cuts from two years of Republican control of the legislature.

Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Scheck first broke the story in DFL’s plan to cut health, human services spending comes as surprise:

Democrats in the House and Senate want to cut $150 million in spending from health and human services programs. After education, health and human services is the second-largest portion of the state’s two-year budget at $11 billion in general fund spending. But it is increasing at a fast rate, and that worries DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen. . . .

The proposed spending cut is troubling lawmakers in charge of crafting budgets for health services and human services. They have to set priorities for spending for nursing homes, hospitals, subsidized health insurance and welfare. The budget is complicated because it includes money from the federal government and other funds.

DFL Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, said he is unhappy . . .

“I’m very upset. I came close to resigning as chair,” Huntley said. “If that’s what the Democrats are going to do, what’s the difference between that and what the Republicans have done over the last two years?”

Huntley said about 90 percent of the health and human services budget is directed at programs for the disabled and the elderly. He said he thinks it will be difficult to cut $150 million without harming those people.

His counterpart in the Senate, Tony Lourey, isn’t any happier. But perhaps the greatest dismay comes from those who work with the disabled and the elderly. Their budgets were slashed two years ago when Governor Dayton and the Republican legislature cut $1.2 billion from health and human services programs.

Scheck reports:

Bruce Nelson, CEO of the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota, which advocates for community living for people with disabilities, said he was hoping lawmakers would give nursing home and community-based home workers a cost of living increase. Now Nelson worries they won’t get a raise or may get their pay cut.

“When they don’t see an increase in their paychecks for maybe now the fifth year in a row, they’re going to move on to other jobs,” Nelson said. “And that really does compromise the quality of care for our most vulnerable Minnesotans.”

As Forum Communications Don Davis and Danielle Killey report in the Duluth News Tribune:

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said she does not have a problem with cuts, but this area actually needs increased money.

Franson said, especially in nonmetro Minnesota, hospitals and nursing homes are having trouble keeping good employees because of the pay, and some people are not getting the care they need.

“They are really struggling,” she said.

Politics can make for odd bedfellows, and this development is making for some odd bunking arrangements. Franson’s no friend to unions, but we’ve been contacted by a couple of labor activists distraught with these cuts. One pointed out that if the state minimum wage is raised, rural nursing homes and hospitals will face both cuts and the need to pay higher wages.

Another labor leader writes that he’s trying to understand the logic, but doesn’t.

We don’t either. Surely, there are other areas where government can be made more efficient than one that has been cut and cut. We like the governor’s target–a modest increase–far better.