Gov. Mark Dayton signed a nearly $15 billion, two-year Health and Human Services bill even as he complained it "fails to sufficiently fund the urgent needs" of Minnesota.
The DFLer blamed Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature for cutting $463 million from the projected human services budget to finance tax cuts.
"There are problems in the bill that we know are going challenges for us at DHS going forward and for people that we're trying to serve," said Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. "But do I think we could have gotten a better deal? No."
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Piper said DHS did win funding to improve safety at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Pater following hundreds of incidents of patients injuring staff. The bill preserves funding for IT operations that help DHS administer billions of dollars in state and federal funds.
Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, voted yes on the Health and Human Services bill. He said it provides important supports to some of the most vulnerable Minnesotans.
"The frail, elderly and kids are served to a very good extent in this bill," Abeler said. "For all the argument around it we do a lot of things to help a lot of people and Minnesota really cares and the Legislature and the governor have really shown that in this bill."
Steve Larson agrees — in part. He's senior policy director for ARC-Minnesota, which advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Larson welcomes significant fee reductions for parents with kids on Medical Assistance who need special services.
He also applauds the legislation for greatly expanding opportunities for people with disabilities to customize their state assistance.
Larson is not happy lawmakers declined to increase wages for some of the 75,000 people who care for vulnerable Minnesotans.
Still, he said the bill could have been worse.
"If the governor hadn't signed the legislation, then it would be open for complete negotiations," he said, "and we were worried than any progress that we made in the current bill might be lost in a third version of the health and human services bill."
Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, is not happy with the legislation and voted against it.
"There's a lot missing from this bill," he said.
Lourey said there was not enough money to ensure medical assistance recipients have access to dental care the state is required make available to them. He also said the bill forces counties to spend millions of dollars to make up for a last-minute, roughly $20 million annual cut in state spending.
"Nobody was aware this was going to be there until the morning of the last day of our special session," Lourey said. "Counties had zero opportunity to come to the table and explain what it would mean to their taxpayers. That's not how you make law."
Abeler pushed for the assessment-funding reduction. He said the assessments are ineffective, time-consuming.
"This was a conscience effort to provoke discussion and find ways to do it more efficiently. It's called MNChoices and it's extremely ineffective," Abeler said.
But the legislation doesn't address the problems Abeler complains about. Instead it just forces counties to help cover the cost of the assessments Abeler claims are ineffective.
"It's real money for all counties," said Julie Ring of the Association of Minnesota Counties. "Every county has to do these assessments. It's a significant amount of work and we're talking for some counties hundreds of thousand dollars and for some counties in the metropolitan area with high populations you're talking millions of dollars a year."
Even though senators Abeler and Lourey split their vote on the bill, they share one concern: The legislation relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in temporary funding to pay for services that consume a growing share of the state budget.
"It's incredibly reckless and irresponsible to be put putting one-time money to ongoing needs of this magnitude," said Lourey, a DFLer. "We are going to be in big trouble with this budget going forward."
Abeler does not dispute that.
"I'm uncomfortable with some of the funding that got put together. I guess that's what compromise is about," he said.
Much of the one-time funding Republicans and Democrats say they're concerned about is coming from a health care access fund whose funding source disappears in two years.