Minnesota House of Representatives finance committees review budget shortfalls
This week, two Minnesota House of Representatives finance committees met to review the budget shortfalls for the Direct Care and Treatment (DCT) division at the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Corrections (DOC). These hearings were announced after staffing and program cuts were announced by both of the agencies.
On Monday, the House Health and Human Services Finance committee heard testimony on DHS proposal to address the DCT budget deficiency, which the Senate failed to pass during regular and special sessions. Program and job cuts to address the $28 million shortfall include:
- $7.5 million through one-time reductions in human services administration and central office costs;
- $7 million in one-time Direct Care and Treatment reductions;
- $2.9 million by eliminating 44 authorized forensic services positions;
- $1.7 million by accelerating transition and privatization of group homes; and
- $800,000 by discontinuing sex offender programming inside the Moose Lake correctional facility.
In total, 15 current employees will be laid off. MAPE Statewide Secretary and Quality Officer at the DCT Forensics Services Division at St. Peter, Lynn Butcher, testified on behalf of MAPE. “Four years ago, when I first testified in front of this committee, it was to convince it that issues of safety and burnout at the Minnesota Security Hospital could be mitigated by hiring 125 additional staff identified through joint Labor Management collaboration,” Butcher said. “Today I am here to share with you the impact of the DHS Administration’s unilateral decision to eliminate 44 of those positions, as well as a unit of MSOP, and accelerate the privatization of over 30 adult foster care homes in order to close a $27M budget shortfall for which no supplemental appropriation was provided.”
Commissioner Jodi Harpstead emphasized that this is just the first step in a longer process as DHS continues to await legislative action on the deficiency funding request and as the state faces a projected $4.2 billion shortfall.
The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy division took testimony on the ongoing budget deficiency at DOC, which is anticipated to reach $14 million during the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2021, and a projected $25 million funding gap the following biennium. The MN House passed the deficiency funding during the regular and special session but the Senate refused to hold a single hearing on the deficiency. Not addressing the shortfall resulted in layoffs in June and an announcement last month of the intention to close both the MCF- Togo and Willow River Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) and moving the CIP program to Moose Lake Correctional Facility.
MAPE Steward and clinical program therapist in the Substance Use Disorder MCF-Togo Tiffany McComas spoke on behalf of the MAPE employees at both Togo and Willow River. Highlighting the importance of the counseling component at CIP, McComas said the anticipated closure of the facility due to failure of the Senate to fund the deficiency is already having an impact on staff and the populations they serve. “[The offenders] have concerns about not being able to complete treatment here and finishing at a large facility. They don’t believe that the environment they are currently in can be replicated “inside the walls” and I have to agree,” said McComas. “The staff who work here are invested in helping the offenders be successful and the people we serve know it.”
Committee chair Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL) said he intended to take up the supplemental bill again in September if Gov. Tim Walz convenes a special session and hopes that those on the other side of the aisle who want to keep these facilities from closing support the bill.