Senate GOP proposes large cuts to social services

Published 9:32 am Tuesday, March 28, 2017

ST. PAUL — Senate Republicans said Monday that they want big cuts for many of Minnesota’s social services programs, while state officials and Democrats believe that could harm families with unexpected pregnancies and those who receive medical assistance and social security.

The GOP’s $15.4 billion bill showed a $671 million gap between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s and the Senate Republican budget proposals for all health and human services programs over the next two years — with the Department of Human Services seeing the biggest cuts. Monday’s Committee on Health and Human Services meeting dealt mostly with the budgetary aspects of the 400-plus page bill because Senate staffers had yet to compile the lengthy legislation’s policy effects, angering Democrats on the committee.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger said the agency is looking to streamline its operations, but cuts of about 7 percent would remove its ability to do important investigations. While he applauded the bill for money put toward fighting opioid addiction in the state, he said there are serious gaps in funding for American Indian drug issues.

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“The rate of opioid overdose deaths for American Indians in Minnesota is six times higher than that for whites,” he said. “This is the greatest disparity in the nation.”

Sen. Jim Abeler, an Anoka Republican, said the measure isn’t perfect and he expects multiple changes in committee and during negotiations. He said the proposed $333 million in cuts are necessary to help balance costs for programs that make up one of the biggest parts of the budget.

“I do want to remind members that the Health and Human Service world is on a collision course with economic reality,” he said in reference to the congressional debate over health care. “We know the writing is on the wall that changes are about to come.”

Democrats said Monday they fear parts of the bill create additional problems for future lawmakers.

Champlin Sen. John Hoffman said the GOP is cutting money that is matched by the federal government, meaning there are hidden losses attached.

And Sen. Tony Lourey of Kerrick said a number of provisions exponentially increase by millions of dollars over the next few years. Throughout the meeting, he brought up different parts of the budget that he said needed to be resolved before the proposal moves on.

“It’s odd that I’m sitting here being the fiscal conservative,” Lourey said.