Death by a Thousand Cuts

How does Minnesota's fresh-minted 2003 budget make this a meaner place? Let us count the ways

Minneapolis has already laid off 18 policemen and 44 firefighters who almost certainly would have been retained if LGA were fully funded.

Funding for battered women's shelters was cut by $3.8 million, or 11 percent, which will result in staff reduction and the likely closure of some rural facilities.

Crime victims assistance grants, which fund over 400 programs that serve nearly 200,000 victims of battering, sexual assault, general crime, and child abuse, were cut by $4.8 million, a third of its total state funding.

A $1.45 million grants program designed to teach K-12 students to resolve conflicts and reduce violence was eliminated.

Law enforcement and community grants used to support crime prevention programs in 300 state and local units of governments was cut $by 1.3 million, or 28 percent.

 

The Disabled: No Respect

One of the most valuable resources for people with significant developmental disabilities--the home- and community-base waiver program (see Kokmen, p. 14)--has been cut by $13 million ($26 million, really, when you count the loss of federal matching funds). This affects service to 600 people (another 1,500 are on a waiting list) in group homes and day programs.

Another waiver program that supports Minnesotans with traumatic brain injuries and keeps them out of nursing homes will be cut to the tune of $4.9 million (and, again, an equal amount of matching federal dollars) in the coming biennium by limiting the program's caseload to 150 new slots per year.

Another safety net program, one that helps 1,800 parents of children with hearing loss, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and other chronic conditions, is cut by $1.8 million.

The state will also charge $4 million in additional fees over the next two years to 5,600 families who earn too much to qualify for Medical Assistance but whose children are eligible for disability-related aid.

Two hundred additional families will lose $2.4 million in state-supported services that helped them care for severely disabled children at home in lieu of placing them in institutions.

Coverage for a new program for people with autism has been repealed, a $4 million cut.

Then there are the thousands of young adults who have graduated from special-ed programs (whose ranks will swell by 1,300 in the next year alone), living at home with parents who work in the daytime. The state will allow financially strapped counties more flexibility in how they provide day training and habilitation services for these people, a likely recipe for diminished quality of care and training.

 

Infants and Children: Sacrifice Starts in the Cradle

Automatic health insurance coverage for newborns is cut by $7 million.

Head Start (which provides comprehensive health, education, and parent-involvement services for low-income families) will be cut $3.5 million, or nearly 10 percent, over the coming biennium.

Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE), which currently serves over 300,000 parents and pre-school children (that's nearly half the eligible population) from all income levels, is being tagged with an across-the-board 20 percent cut that amounts to more than $8 million, an especially hard blow to poorer communities that can't soften the impact with fee increases.

School Readiness, a self-evident program targeted to Minnesota children aged three and a half to four, with a priority given to kids who are developmentally disabled and otherwise at risk, is being pared back ten percent, or more than $2 million over the biennium.

And so on. The state will save an extra $1 million by eliminating Way To Grow, another school readiness program that provides everything from prenatal counseling to culturally specific family services in five metro communities.

Also gone (at a total savings of $1.75 million) is the last vestige of state support for the Children's Trust Fund, which provides grants to 45 programs dealing with child abuse prevention, adolescent pregnancy prevention, parenting education, and other child-related services.

State funds for crisis nurseries have also been cut, forcing the layoff of seven people (a quarter of their workforce), the elimination of their 24-hour hotline, and the closure of at least one branch office. Crisis nurseries provided emergency shelter for more than 1,100 children last year, and counseling for the parents of many more.

This budget also reduces funding for child care by more than $80 million over the next two years, raising eligibility requirements so that 1,200 moderate-income families will no longer receive assistance and dramatically increasing co-payments in most of the lower-income brackets. For a family of four earning about $1,500 a month, the cost rises from $5 to $59 per month; if that same family earned $3,000 a month, their monthly co-payment would jump from $208 to $376.

 

From Poor to Worse

Not all "shared sacrifices" are created equal. Poor single-parent families who rely on the state's welfare program (known as the Minnesota Family Investment Program, or MFIP) get hammered by this budget. Under the benign guise of welfare reform and reorganization, millions of dollars in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds are being diverted from the program.

Further, all MFIP participants must have an employment plan, a "work first" provision that will delay millions of dollars of payments. Access to education benefits is eliminated for those not working at least 20 hours per week; funding is cut off for those who don't comply with program rules for six months; and cash assistance will not increase if a child is born while the family is on the program.

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