Despite warnings of cuts to child protection, House committee passes cuts in human services

Despite claims it will result in less protection for victims of child abuse and trauma, House Republicans this afternoon passed a bill to make cuts in human services in Minnesota permanent.

“We are faced with a challenge that’s bigger than we’ve ever had, with less resources than we’ve ever had. I’ve been a party to it in the past,” Rep. Jim Abeler,the chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, said.

But Democrat Larry Hosch said Abeler’s bill was only introduced at 3 yesterday afternoon, and guessed that many of the new lawmakers don’t even know the acronyms in the bill.

“These are the most vulnerable children; children who have experienced neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Only 60 percent of reports investigated in a timely fashion. Will this bill help that? Probably not,” Hosch said.

Still, with only 45 minutes of debate over the bill, House Republicans probably knew what was at stake because Mary Regan, the executive director of the Minnesota Council of Child Caring Agencies, spelled it out for them.

“These are the only state dollars in Minnesota’s child protection system,” she said. “Minnesota puts fewer state dollars in child protection than any other state in the country. The grant is reduced by 30%. Investing allegations of abuse and neglect is a core function of our society. Nobody else can take on this essential task.”

“When childhood goes wrong, adulthood goes wrong and the sad story of abuse repeats itself from one troubled generation to the next,” she said.

Jessica Webster, a staff attorney for Legal Aid, said the bill will hurt more than just children. “One of the things that’s frustrating, when we get these pieces of legislation, there’s nothing here that shows the people who receive these services,” she said. “Low-income people who are sick, who have serious injuries, poor people who have ill or injured children, battered women in battered women’s shelters, people living in homeless shelters, homeless youth, displaced homemakers, the developmentally disabled, people with low IQ, people who are mentally ill. All of these people are unable to work.”

But Republicans said they were not cutting the programs, since the programs had already been cut by lawmakers in their last-minute deal with then Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“These folks having genuine needs, but over the last year or so, what this bill does just maintains… so what was done in the last year would be continuing,” Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer said. “You hear some of these phrases …. what we do is we make spending permanent. It’s not that needs don’t get met, but that they may be met in a different way.”

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, also failed in a bid to remove a cut in provider reimbursements for primary care doctors. “There’s been a 60-percent drop in Minnesota in the number of medical students going into primary care medicine. “If you vote against this, you are voting for a specific cut on primary care docs, and no other physicians.

“This is how we budget sometimes around here,” Abeler said. “This is a drop in the ocean.” Abeler said he’s received no phone calls opposing the extension of the cuts.

The committee passed the bill on a 11-to-7 party-line vote.

(See roll call vote)