Group home from KARE files
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- At the Minnesota Department of Education Thursday furloughed state workers returned to find three weeks worth of unopened mail.
Thousands of teachers' license renewals applications sat in bins, and now must be processed and turned around in time for the start of school.
"We're going to put all hands on deck to make sure we're providing the best customer service to students, teachers and school in Minnesota," Charlene Briner, the MDE Communications Director, told KARE.
But that backlog, another byproduct of the state's longest ever government shutdown, will be a temporary issue. The same can't be said for many of the services being curtailed as a result of the final budget Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law Wednesday.
The $35.7 billion final budget was written for the most part behind closed doors in four days of intense negotiations between Gov. Dayton's commissioners and leaders of the Republican-controlled state legislature.
Even lawmakers who voted for the bills had little time to read them, or discuss the details that can change lives of those who depend on state services. Take, for example, new rules for group homes for persons with disabilities.
"Small group homes will not be allowed to fill any vacancies that occur," Steve Larson, public policy director for The ARC of Minnesota, told KARE Thursday.
Larson found that provision in the massive $11.3 billion Human Services bill, and was surprised because he never heard the idea discussed in any committee hearings this year at the Capitol. The policy change will mean that if any client leaves a group home or dies, that home will not be allowed to offer that spot to anyone else.
He said the goal of the ARC and other agencies that work with persons with disabilities have strived to help people transition out of group homes when possible, and into their own spaces. But the change removes a vital option for an estimated 4,000 persons in the state on the waiting list for group homes.
"The Arc of Minnesota actually has a program that in the last two years has helped 200 Minnesotans find homes of their own," Larson said.
"But this is arbitrary legislation that will force some group homes to close that should continue to be open. We needed to have legislation that we had public input into and ended up in a thoughtful and planned manner."
The final bill would also cut the pay 20 percent for non-custodial relatives taking care of persons with disabilities in their homes. Some have quit other jobs to take care of loved ones they're not legally responsible for, and are paid by the state. It's less costly and preferable to an institutional setting.
"They're our lowest paid health care workers, but in some ways the backbone to our community support services," Larson remarked. "They have to take a 20 percent cut in their wage."
Higher education is also taking hits in the FY 2012-2013 budget. The University of Minnesota, for example, will have to absorb a 7.7 percent cut in state aid this year academic year and another 7.7 percent cut in 2012.
The U of M Board of Regents, anticipating a worst case scenario, already voted in June to raise tuition 5 percent in the coming academic year. The U of M's new president, Eric Kaler, said the loss in aid will also translate to hiring freeze and pay freezes on campus.
"We're competing globally against other societies that are putting money into education," Kaler told KARE.
"They're innovating, they're educating, they're creating new knowledge. And for us to take a step back from that endeavor at a time when world competition is increasingly fierce seems to me to be the wrong direction to be going."
Kaler pointed out however, that the original Higher Ed bill vetoed by Dayton would've cut aid even more deeply. Dayton's final compromise added an extra $25 million per year to the U's aid package.
And the bonding bill Dayton won as a last-minute concession from Republican lawmakers included $88 million for construction projects at the U.
Two thirds of that money will go toward a new physics and nanotechnology center at the U. And part of the bonding bill will go toward work to counteract the noise and vibrations caused by the new light rail line that will run through campus.
"This is very important to us, and we are grateful," Kaler said.
He was also relieved that Republican leaders relented on their original demand for a ban on stem cell and cloning research at the U of M. Kaler said the ban, promoted by abortion opponents, would've had a chilling effect on scientists pursuing cures for diseases.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)