Subscribe to Our New and Improved Blog

July 27, 2015

By Mike Gude, The Arc Minnesota Communications Director

Mike Gude Conference 2012It’s been three weeks since we launched our new website. Besides upgrading our site, we have upgraded our blog to better serve you.  In addition to insights and personal views on public policy from Steve Larson, our Senior Policy Director, we will more frequently share information and reflections from other staff and volunteers on The Arc Minnesota’s programs and news.  The blog will now be updated weekly throughout the year, not just during the Minnesota Legislative Session.

This blog post is the last post on this old site.  If you have been a subscriber of the old blog, we now invite you to subscribe to our new one.  Just go to The Arc Minnesota Blog page of our website and sign up.  Feel free to offer comments on our new blog, and keep sharing your comments about our new website, too.  Thanks in advance for reading and sharing.

 

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Now on Your Laptop, Smart Phone, & Tablet: Our New and Improved Website!

July 6, 2015

By Mike Gude, The Arc Minnesota Communications Director

Mike Gude Conference 2012This year, our Senior Policy Director Steve Larson, along with other staff and volunteers of The Arc Minnesota, were very visible and busy at the State Capitol protecting and advancing the rights and supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.  No less busy – but very active behind the scenes – have been staff, volunteers, and designers who were updating and upgrading our website.

Our new site is now live and ready for public use and viewing.  It connects you easily to information about our programs and links you to sites and resources to provide support for you and your family.  It reflects current trends in web design.  It performed well when tested for accessibility for people with disabilities.  It has been tested on multiple platforms — laptops, smart phones, and tablets – to make sure it is accessible on each.

We are excited about the new site, and we want to hear how it works for you.  Go to www.arcmn.org, and see the changes we’ve made.  Send any feedback to me at mikeg@arcmn.org; we look forward to hearing from you!

Conference Committees

April 27, 2015

By Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy Director

Steve Larson July 2014 Photo 4With the passage of the health and human services (HHS) omnibus funding bill in the Senate this past Friday and the expected passage of the House HHS bill this Tuesday, the next step is to name HHS conference committee members.  Historically, five senators and five representatives have made up this committee.  They will include the committee chairs in human services policy and finance: Senators Tony Lourey and Kathy Sheran, and Representatives Matt Dean, Tara Mack, and Joe Schomacker.

The committee will probably begin to meet this week, with the committee chairmanship rotating between Senator Lourey and Representative Dean on alternate days.  Early on they will look at items that are identical in each bill and adopt those items.  That is the easy part.  The Senate and House HHS bills are quite different, and it will take a lot of work behind the scenes to create a final bill.  Typically each party will caucus and trade offers, which means they will share a list of items they are willing to compromise or change their position on in order to seek an agreement.

The conference committee will not be able to complete its work until a “global budget agreement” is made.  This is an agreement made between Governor Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, and Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, in which they determine a new budget target for each conference committee.  This process is usually covered quite closely by the press, so you will know the legislative session will wrap up soon once that agreement is made.  However, because of the vast differences in the Governor’s, Senate’s, and House’s positions, it might not come until right before the last day of the session, May 18th, if then.

We still have many of our key priorities that will be determined during conference committee.  I hate to sound like a broken record, but please respond to our action alerts over the next few weeks, because many important decisions are yet to be made.  Thanks for your great work so far this legislative session.

A Good News, Bad News Story

April 21, 2015

By Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy Director

Steve Larson July 2014 Photo 4It happens every legislative budget year. Legislators release their omnibus bills (their overall spending bills) in the major areas of state funding. In this year’s health and human services (HHS) omnibus bills, we received good news on several of our priorities in the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, but did not do as well on the Senate side.

The good news is that both the House and Senate HHS bills eliminated the premium increase for Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities. They also increased the income spend down to 80% of poverty for people with disabilities to qualify for Medical Assistance health care.

The House bill also:

  • Fully funds the State Quality Council and its activities.
  • Reduces parental fees by 10%.
  • Provides $90 million in one-time funding for community-based services to help increase direct support professionals’ wages.
  • Includes language to spend unused funding for waivered services to reduce the waiting list for those services.
  • Spends what the Governor requested to implement the ABLE Act.

The Senate bill, unfortunately, did not include any of these provisions.

Fortunately, as long as language is included in either the House or Senate omnibus bills, that issue is still alive. Committee chairs have been known to support an item but haven’t included it in their bill because they will use it later as part of their negotiating strategy.

As you can see, the HHS bills are quite different, and a tremendous amount of negotiation will need to take place during conference committees. This gives us a great opportunity to plead our case on several of our priorities. We will do this by contacting the Governor, working with the HHS committee chairs, working with the authors of each of our bills seeking their advice moving forward, and preparing to contact and lobby conference committee members when they are named.

Continue to share your story, stay positive, respond to all action alerts we send you, and be proactive.

Omnibus Bills

April 13, 2015

By Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy Director

Steve Larson July 2014 Photo 4This week the chairs of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Finance committees in the Minnesota House and Senate will put together their HHS omnibus bills (overall spending bills).  Senator Tony Lourey and Rep. Matt Dean will look at all the bills that have passed their committees, maybe even come up with few ideas of their own, and compile all the proposals they want to include in their bills.  Bills that cost any new dollars will be closely scrutinized by these two committee chairs, and it is our collective job to make our priorities their priorities.

Rep. Dean has announced he will have his bill done by the middle of this week, with testimony on the bill scheduled for this Friday.  Senator Lourey has not shared his exact timetable yet.

In the meantime, we still have several critical hearings scheduled for this week on our parental fees, Medical Assistance (MA) income and asset standards, and waiting lists bills.  Your job is to respond to our action alerts as we issue them.  You have done a good job so far this session in responding to our alerts that have been targeted to legislators on specific committees.  We need to keep up appropriate pressure if we are to be successful this session.

The Next Six Weeks: Focusing Our Efforts

April 7, 2015

By Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy Director

Steve Larson July 2014 Photo 4We are now reaching a critical time during this legislative session.  We need to have our priority bills heard in the Minnesota Senate and House Health and Human Services (HHS) Finance Committees in order to be possibly included in the HHS omnibus budgets (the overall spending bills for HHS).  Fortunately, both HF 975 (State Quality Council funding) and HF 1790 (the revision to the Consumer Directed Community Supports budget methodology to help increase employment) are scheduled for hearings later this week in the House.  We will send out targeted Action Alerts this week on both bills, asking members of The Arc who have legislators on the HHS committee to contact them urging to support both proposals.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in just six short weeks from now on Monday May 18th.  Our lobbying efforts will soon need to focus on the Governor, his staff, and key legislators who will be at the table when decisions are made that impact services and supports for people with disabilities and their families.  If you have a relationship with of these legislators, I need to hear from you so we can target our message to them during the next 42 days:

  • In the Minnesota Senate:  Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, and Senators Richard Cohen, Jeff Hayden, Tony Lourey, Kathy Sheran, and Kent Eken.  These state senators represent the Senate leadership, Senate HHS committee chairs, and possible conference committee members.
  • In the Minnesota House:  Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, and Representatives Jim Knoblauch, Matt Dean, Tara Mack, Joe Schomacker, Nick Zerwas, and Rod Hamilton.  These state representatives represent the House leadership, House HHS committee chairs, and possible conference committee members.

We need members of The Arc who are constituents or have a relationship with these key legislators to help us out during the next six weeks.  Please let me know if you can help, and we will work together on the messages we want you to share with them.  Together we can work to have a successful 2015 Legislative Session.

Money

March 23, 2015

By Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy Director

Steve Larson July 2014 Photo 4This past week, the Governor released his supplemental budget, which contained no new funding for services and supports for people with disabilities. This Tuesday, March 24th, the leadership in the Senate and House will release their budget targets, which are the budgets that each committee receives to incorporate all spending proposals it passes this session. These committee targets will be compared to the Governor’s proposal, and then the real work in the committees will begin.

The Arc and its allies have made good progress in getting our key priorities through policy committees, but this only the initial step. The difficult work begins this week, getting those priorities heard and then passed by the budget and finance committees. The key players in the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committees are the committee chairs, Senator Tony Lourey of Kerrick and Representative Matt Dean of Dellwood. After hearings on budget bills over the next few weeks, the two chairs will put their respective HHS budgets together.

Our work to get our funding priorities passed begins in earnest this week, with a hearing on SF 902, the State Quality Council (SQC) funding bill. SF 902 will be heard in Senator Lourey’s committee on Wednesday, March 25th at 8:30 a.m. We will need to clearly articulate the roles of the SQC and Regional Quality Councils, explain how they relate to the Olmstead Plan, and how people with disabilities will be involved. If we do a good job, the bill will probably pass and be considered for possible inclusion in the HHS budget. Even if your bill passes in the budget committee, there is no assurance it will be included in the final HHS budget. The committee chairs have great discretion in what is included, so we will need to continue to effectively lobby even after bills pass in committee.

You can help us get these priorities included in a couple of ways: 1) respond to the action alert we just sent out this morning; 2) attending our Tuesday at the Capitol on March 24 and speaking up for proposals like the SQC funding. E-mail Mike Gude to let him know you are coming to the Capitol. I hope to see many of you there, which we are co-hosting with The Arc Greater Twin Cities.   Please also plan to attend any town hall meetings or other activities that your legislators will host next week during the Legislature’s spring break, which starts Monday, March 30th.

The Voices of People With Disabilities Are Heard

March 16, 2015

By Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy Director

Steve Larson July 2014 Photo 4This past week was a powerful one for people with disabilities.  Mikayla Holmgren, a 19-year old with Down syndrome, testified twice on SF 462/HF 439, the Prenatal Trisomy Information Act, one of our 2015 legislative priorities.  At both hearings, she wrapped up her testimony by sharing that after she graduates, she will attend Bethel College in Arden Hills next school year.  Due to her testimony and the testimony of her mother and other parents of children with Down syndrome, the bill passed in both the Senate and House committees.

Also this past week, the State Quality Council (SQC) funding bill, SF 902/HF 975, had three hearings.  Lance Heglund, SQC Co-Chair and a strong leader in the disability community, testified twice about how our current system for ensuring service quality doesn’t incorporate his concerns and those of others with disabilities.  Kurt Rutzen, self-advocate and a Public Policy Advocate for The Arc Minnesota, shared in the House hearing about the role of Regional Quality Councils and how they will help the voices of people with disabilities be heard and improve the quality of services.   Their testimony helped pass these bills in House & Senate Committees.

These hearings were great opportunities for individuals with disabilities to share how proposed legislation would have a positive, direct impact on Minnesotans with disabilities and their families.  One of our goals is to get individuals and family members to testify on those issues that greatly impact them, so this past week was a great success.

As we approach the first legislative deadline for bills proposed this session, there are other opportunities for people to share their testimony.  On Tuesday, March 17, the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee will hear HF 1640, a bill we have been promoting that eliminates the fees parents pay for supports that help their family member live in the community. Rep. Roz Peterson is the bill’s chief author; the hearing will begin at 2:45 p.m.  On Wednesday, March 18, again at 2:45 p.m., this same committee will hear HF 1790, another bill we strongly support.  It would change the Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS) program so it provides more support for adults with disabilities to gain employment.  Rep. Tara Mack is the chief author of this legislation.

The best way for everyone to participate in our efforts is to Tell Your Story.  If you have not already done so, please go to our website to use the Telling Your Story app to put your story together.

Movement on Bill to Reduce Waiting Lists and on Other Priorities

March 9, 2015

By Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy Director

Steve Larson July 2014 Photo 4The Disability Waiver Rate System bill (HF 1211), which includes language to reduce waiting lists, had its first hearing on Friday, March 6th, in Rep. Tara Mack’s House Health and Human Services Reform Committee.  The total number of people on the waiting list is 5,000.  Of those, 3,500 individuals and families are waiting for the developmental disabilities waiver, and 1,500 individuals are waiting for the CADI/TIBI/CAC waivers.  The Arc Minnesota expressed its concern to Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Jesson on this issue in a letter to her on October 9th, citing data that the county reserves for waiver programs had grown to an average of 7 – 10% and that tens of millions of dollars were left unspent.  HF 1211 and its companion bill, SF 1062 will address this issue by repealing previous legislation that inappropriately punished counties for overspending on their waivers, and by calling for the counties to spend up to 99% of their waiver allocations from the state.  Thanks to Senator John Hoffman of Champlin and Representative Roz Peterson of Lakeville for being the chief authors of these bills.

We will now negotiate with DHS and state legislators to come up with an acceptable solution to this problem of the counties under spending their waiver allocations at a time when we have long waiting lists. The time seems right for us to make substantial progress this year on the waiting lists, thanks to pressure from the Olmstead Plan, a large state budget surplus, and prominent coverage in the Star Tribune.

Activity is increasing around several other items from our legislative priorities this year.  We now have bill numbers in the Senate for bills to eliminate parental fees (SF 1493) and to provide more opportunities for employment under Consumer Directed Community Supports (SF 1517).  We should have the numbers the House versions of these bills early this week.  The 5% Campaign legislation (SF646/HF 564) is the focus of a rally at the State Armory near the State Capitol this Tuesday, March 10th from 10 – 11 a.m.  We will lobby hard for hearings on these bills in the House and Senate to meet the first committee deadline, which is Friday, March 20th.

Ramping Up Our Efforts After Great State Budget News

March 2, 2015

By Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy DirectorSteve Larson July 2014 Photo 4

Last Friday the state announced $1.9 billion state budget surplus — a surprise to everyone.  The record size of the surplus should embolden us to work even harder the rest of the legislative session to fund our priorities, which were not included in the Governor’s budget.  The action alert season now begins, and I urge you to respond whenever we need to put pressure on the Governor and legislators to support our priorities:  funding the State Quality Council, expanding Consumer Directed Community Supports to promote self-directed employment, reducing the waiting list, and eliminating (or at least lowering) parental fees.

Another major priority of ours is Medical Assistance reform.  The Medical Assistance Income/Assets (MA) and the Medical Assistance – Employed Persons with Disabilities bills will receive their first hearing on Wednesday March 4th at Noon.  The hearing will be held by the Senate Health, Human Services, and Housing Committee in Room 15 at the State Capitol.

Medical Assistance provides adults and seniors with disabilities access to services and supports that are necessary for living in the community.  Current law holds people with disabilities to income and assets standards that force some to “spend-down” limited resources to keep the services they need for independence.  SF 543 proposes to raise the MA income and asset standards to reduce the “spend-down,” improving the quality of life for Minnesotans with disabilities.

In 2011, legislation was passed to increase premium payments for MA-EPD.  These increases were implemented last October and dramatically raised monthly premium payments.  SF 238 would repeal these premium increases and bring premiums back to the original levels.

Please join us at this hearing to show your support for these bills.