Health and Human Services budgets cut services for vulnerable Minnesotans

Omnibus bills for the Health and Human Services Committees were released this week by Chair Abeler and Chair Benson. Despite the budget surplus and substantial federal relief dollars coming to the state, their budgets cut services for people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness and offer little support for many other Minnesotans who continue to struggle with lost income and heightened health risks.

With no additional general fund money dedicated to health and human services in their budget target, Senate Republicans are making it clear they won’t invest in sustainable resources Minnesotans need, like health care, homelessness supports, and economic assistance for our lowest-income families. Their bills are propped up by risky and unnecessary budgeting strategies that will undoubtedly create budget shortfalls in future sessions. In contrast, the House has over $300 million more dedicated towards HHS spending.

The Human Services Reform Committee budget relies heavily on federal relief money, even though agencies are still awaiting clear guidance on how these dollars can be spent. At the same time, this bill has no state funding to support homelessness services and shelters that have been critical before and during the pandemic. It also ignores vital funding needed to operate our state’s Direct Care and Treatment program, almost guaranteeing cuts to jobs and services. While DFLers are happy to have several proposals included in the bill that would support parents and families, it’s disappointing that Senate Republicans have chosen to find general fund revenue for these items by reducing access to disability waiver services, which will create wait lists, disrupt access to services and reduce the services people currently on these waivers are eligible for.  

The Health and Human Services Finance Budget is no less egregious. Positive additions to this bill, including extending postpartum Medical Assistance coverage and lessening the severity of prenatal substance use reporting requirements, are offset by unnecessary and harsh cuts to public health programs. For example, this bill would cut over half of the state funding to the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), a program used by counties, Tribal Nations, and nonprofit partners to promote active living, healthy eating and commercial tobacco-free living. It also eliminates state funding towards our Medical Cannabis Program, a cut that would reduce access and increase patient costs for those struggling with severe illness and debilitating medical conditions. Finally, there is no money for the Department of Health’s sorely needed operating adjustment, penalizing an agency that has worked around the clock this past year to keep people safe.

For many Minnesotans, the last year has shown how important it is to have a strong social safety net and a responsive government that cares for us. There’s a long road ahead for these bills as amendments are offered and negotiations are made. While Senate Republicans try to make unnecessary cuts, DFLers are committed to working with other members of the Legislature, the Walz Administration, and stakeholders across the state in order to protect and invest in the vital health and human service programs Minnesotans rely on.  (SF 2360, SF 383)