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Pawlenty plan kicks adults off health program

Taxpayers may rejoice that Gov. Tim Pawlenty's new plan to solve the state's projected $5 billion budget shortfall contains no tax hikes -- but it also includes big cuts in both local government aid and health care for lower income Minnesotans.

Proposed cutbacks in both of these areas will have a negative impact on Becker County Human Services, but department director Nancy Nelson noted Tuesday that Pawlenty's proposed changes for health and human services programs are "not all bad."

"Not all of it (Pawlenty's plan) is bad -- there are some innovative programs in there," Nelson said.

But when all is said and done, state funding for many of those "innovative" programs will not cover the cost of implementation, "so counties will have to put money in, and we're in budget cuts right now, so..."

Some of the governor's plans to combine grant programs, such as Emergency General Assistance (EGA) and Emergency Minnesota Supplemental Aid (EMSA), "make sense," Nelson said, while others, such as aligning payments for child foster care, relative custody assistance and adoption assistance under one program, North Star Care for Children, contain some troubling aspects.

"What I don't like about it (the North Star Care for Children proposal) is that it reduces foster care payments to be in line with the other two -- and there is also a county share (required), which there hasn't been before," Nelson said.

Cuts in LGA will also potentially impact human services programs, Nelson added.

But the biggest potential impact on Nelson's department will be the proposed increase in eligibility limits to qualify for the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), and eliminating adult eligibility for Minnesota Care and General Assistance Medical Care altogether -- so basically, only children would be covered.

"Statewide, that would affect 85,000 (health care) recipients," said Samantha Pierson, a financial support manager for Becker County Human Services. "We estimate that between 300 and 500 people in Becker County could be affected."

Also eliminated from health care coverage would be chiropractic and rehabilitative services and adult dental care coverage.

"It doesn't make sense to cut out (coverage for) preventive services," Nelson said. "We as a society will pay for it in the long run," because the need for emergency room care, which does not require medical insurance coverage at all, will increase.

Medical assistance premiums for employed, enrolled persons with disabilities would also increase from $35 to $50 per month, Pierson noted. Cuts in funding for employment assistance to MFIP recipients, child care and family planning grants and other services as well as limiting funding to waivered services programs for the disabled and elderly will also have a negative impact.

"Children are important, but children grow up, and unfortunately, medical and health needs continue (into adulthood)," Pierson said.

Another part of the governor's proposed plan would require all counties to participate 100 percent in a "human services delivery consolidation program" that would divide the state into 15 human services delivery regions with an average population of between 100,000 and 250,000 people, Nelson said.

Counties that did not participate in this program 100 percent would receive further cutbacks in LGA funding, Nelson noted.

"The state has always been very prescriptive in determining how our allocations are supposed to be used (for various programs)," she added. But under the governor's proposal, the way in which funding can be spent will become even more restrictive.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454