Legislators slogged through more conference committee meetings this week, debating the state budget. Most of the conversation in Health and Human Services committees has been focused on health care and disability services, with citizen activism disrupting one session. Child welfare issues have not risen to the surface of debates, but they remain very susceptible to the proposed budget cuts.
From MPR News on May 12th,
"Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, says he expects the Health and Human Services Conference Committee to wrap up tonight. Abeler says the committee's "working target" will be $10.7 billion over the next two years....While the House and Senate appear to be close to wrapping up the HHS bill, it's no guarantee that the proposal will become law. The plan is still $1 billion less than Gov. Dayton's proposal. 'This could be done by May 23rd,' Abeler said. 'The question is whether they can agree on revenue.'"
With just a couple weeks left in the session, and very little progress made toward reaching a budget agreement, many people are pointing toward a special session.
How will the proposed state budget cuts look at the county level? Chisago County Health and Human Services Director Nancy Dahlin expresses her concern about negative repercussions of budget cuts. In this Chisago County Press article from, May 12th, Dahlin describes the anticipated impact on programs for the county's resident most in need of support. Regarding child wellbeing services, she says:
- "Child Care Assistance Program subsidies for qualifying families are proposed to be reduced by five percent for all provider types.
- Child Protection program dollars are dropping.
- The money comes through the Children and Community Services Act (CSSA) to pay for child protective services budgets. Chisago County is already spending almost twice what it gets from CSSA. ($475,000 received, $900,000 spent.)"
In Minnesota, the child welfare system has a preventative, strengths-based approach in the Family Assessment model. In this approach, families reported to the Child Protection System are screened for strengths and needs, and supports are provided where appropriate. The goal is to maintain family unity and stability. Of course, there are cases where children are removed from the home for safety and wellbeing concerns. But the Child Protection System relies upon access to social service programs to support families in staying together. Mental health services are a major element of this network of support. The MN Budget Project, in its Budget Bites blog, provides an analysis of the consequences and alternative solutions to this:
"Proposed Cut: The legislature has proposed cuts to the State Mental Health Block Grant, jeopardizing services for people facing mental health emergencies."
On a positive note, a bill we've been tracking continues to move forward, with another hearing in the Ways and Means Committee Friday, May 13th. This is a good step toward providing support and protection to some of Minnesota's most vulnerable youth. HF 556: Juvenile prostitutes in need of protection or services provisions amended, sexually exploited youth defined, prostitution crime penalty assessments increased, and distribution of the assessment amended; prostitution laws provisions clarified and recodified, and definitions modified; money appropriated to the commissioner of public safety to develop a statewide victim services model.