House committee cuts $154 million from human servicesby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A health and human services budget proposal with $154 million in cuts passed through a number of key state legislative committees this week.
The bill passed the DFL-led House Health and Human Services Finance committee late Tuesday night, over the objections of health care providers and advocates for poor and disabled Minnesotans.
Although the bill does not include many of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed welfare cuts, advocates for the poor and disabled say the bill does include other spending reductions that would hurt the state's most vulnerable residents.
Sixty-three representatives from the health care industry, social service agencies and anti-poverty groups provided over five hours of testimony -- most of it critical -- about the cuts.
Many testifiers voiced objections to proposed reductions in reimbursement rates for mental health care for children and child protective services.
Both DFL and Republican members of the committee joined advocates in expressing dissatisfaction with the bill, which passed with a voice vote.
"There are not many people on the committee who are happy with this bill," said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.
Abeler voiced objections to the the bill's reliance on federal funding to pay for the Medical Assistance program. He said that if the federal government decides to cut funding for the program over the next few years, the state would have to pick up the additional costs.
"Who knows if the feds could afford that?" Abeler said. "At some point, somebody has to pay for all this stuff."
However, Abeler did support a provision to preserve the General Assistance program, a state-run welfare program for single adults. Pawlenty has proposed eliminating the program.
Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said the committee had to reduce spending to meet targets set by the governor. He said many of the cuts were difficult to make.
"I think that we are cutting on the backs of the poor and I don't like it," Hayden said. "However I am cognizant that we're facing the toughest economy in a generation. If we don't give a bill that's balanced, the governor could unallot funding for many of these programs."
The sometimes heated testimony prompted one lawmaker to walk out of the House hearing.
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said she "cannot sit here" and listen to dozens of people testifying about the negative impacts of the cuts.
"Please do not accuse us of not caring," a tearful Liebling said before leaving.
The health and human services budget bill headed to the House Finance committee, which approved the bill on a 18-11 vote on Wednesday.
Although the Legislature has less than three weeks to come up with a budget solution, the process is far from over.
The state's top finance official said Tuesday that Minnesota will probably not receive its share of anticipated federal health care money for the legislative session ends on May 17.
Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson said delay means lawmakers will likely have $408 million less than expected to solve the state budget deficit. The funding shortfall could result in additional health and human services cuts.
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Service Budget Division, has not yet presented her budget proposal. In the House, legislators expect to vote on the funding bill early next week.