Thursday, May 31, 2007

Michigan Legislature plugs holes in state budget

Issues concerning the state budget and legislators may seem remote from our daily lives with our disabled family members, but we need to understand how the services they need are funded and how vulnerable our family members are to the whims of public policy makers when we are not watching or do not understand what they are doing.

According to several news accounts, the Michigan Legislature has balanced the budget for this fiscal year (ending on September 30, 2007), by shifting funds, delaying payments to Universities and Colleges, and borrowing $400 million on future payments from the tobacco settlement fund. Medicaid and school funding will not be cut, but other programs will be cut, including the Healthy Michigan fund and the 21st Century Jobs fund. The legislature did not raise taxes, but the state must pay more later to address the state's problem with a structural deficit, which has been made worse by the state's current actions.
Ann Arbor's State Senator Liz Brater, in a recent email to constituents describes the harmful effect on the state from the Legislature putting off difficult decisions:
Because of the use of gimmicks and one-time fixes for so many years to balance the budget, the bond rating agencies have downgraded the state’s bond rating. For the third time this year, Wall Street has downgraded Michigan's credit rating. Standard and Poor's has recently lowered Michigan's General Obligation Credit Rating to AA- from AA. As with previous downgrades from Fitch and Moody's, S&P cites delays in securing budget agreements and the legislature's elimination of the Single Business Tax without replacement revenue as key factors. This results in increased borrowing costs to state and local government and schools, further straining our fiscal position.
Other articles that you might want to look at, now that you are incredibly excited about state budgets and credit ratings, include:

Borrowing, funding shifts keep state afloat in 2007 by Peter Luke and

Can Michigan survive its lawmakers' folly? Legislators fiddled while state burned, an editorial from the Ann Arbor News.

To receive Liz Brater's E-mail newsletter click here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Helpsource Announces it will close by September 30th

Helpsource is the largest nongovernmental service agency in Washtenaw County. According to an article in the Ann Arbor News, the agency's United Way contributions were cut by 25%. Since its creation in 1996, the staff has been cut from 400 to 122, its client base has fallen from 5,000 to 600, and its budget dropped from a high of $11 million to $4.9 million.

Board members decided that HelpSource no longer can afford to provide the services its clients deserve.

The agency provides numerous youth services along with services for seniors, mental health counseling, and substance abuse programs. Developmentally disabled adults participate in the adult day care program.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Let the Whacking Begin

The Detroit Free Press has a series of editorials on the seriousness of the state budget crisis. If something doesn't happen soon, the cuts will begin in earnest ...

So let the whacking begin. And maybe, when all the Secretary of State's branches are closed for a week or two, and people can't get driver's licenses, and the trash is piling up at unkempt rest areas on highways leading to closed state parks, and businesses can't get anyone at the state to answer their calls, and the court date for which someone has been waiting two years is abruptly postponed, and people are bleeding in emergency rooms way longer than 29 minutes because the places are filled with Medicaid patients whose doctors have quit the system -- maybe then the depths of this state's financial problems will alarm the public enough to compel some action.

What a shame that will be. But Michigan is running out of options for much else.

What are you willing to accept? If the legislature raises taxes, what is the fairest way to do that? Should past tax breaks be revoked? Can we afford to raise taxes? Can we afford not to raise taxes? More money is not the answer to every problem, nor is reducing taxes and spending to the point of destroying government programs that we all rely on. Let your state legislators and the Governor know what you think. Contact your State Representative, State Senator, and the Governor.

Survey Assessing Interest in Living Skills Program

Occupational Therapy students in a Masters program at Eastern Michigan University are researching the need for an Independent Living Skills program for teens and adults, 15 - 26 years old. If you would like to fill out their survey, click here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Proposed Changes to Michigan Special Education Rules

Numerous changes to Michigan's Administrative Rules for Special Education have been proposed. One of the most controversial changes is to reduce extended school year programs (summer programs) for many students.There are other areas that may be equally important to parents, such as rule changes to Student Discipline Procedures, Intermediate School District Plans, and Procedural Safeguards.

I have not yet read the proposed changes, but it is striking that the Michigan Department of Education is holding these hearings at only three sites: Lansing, Oakland County, and Roscommon. No hearing in the Western part of the state, the UP, or in Detroit. June 11th, 12th, and 13th could not be a worse time for parents of school age children to come to a hearing. It almost seems as if the MDE is hoping no one will show up.

For links to information about the hearings and all the draft proposals, click here.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Michigan's Looming Budget Crisis

The Republican-controlled State Senate, the Democratic-controlled State House of Representatives, and the Governor are locked in a dispute over how to resolve Michigan's budget crisis. Revenues are down, the economy is poor, and the legislature has run out of quick fixes for funding Medicaid that pays for medical care for low-income people, including those with disabilities, the elderly, people with mental illness, and other vulnerable populations. It also pays for specialty services such as day programs, home help services, and long-term care.

The Michigan Department of Community Health, on orders from Governor Jennifer Granholm, will begin cutting fees for Medicaid services on June 1st, 2007, if the legislature and Governor can't agree on measures to avoid the cuts. The programs affected will include in-patient and out-patient hospital fees, Children's Special Health Care Services, Home-Help Services, Dental Services, and the Children's Waiver. The order generally calls for a 6% reduction in rates. For many of these programs this is on top of cuts made in previous years.

The hourly fee to pay people to provide Home Help Services, so that people can live in their own or their families' homes, will be cut 6% in addition to the reductions made in fiscal year 2003 and 2005 currently in place. Dental services for adults, which were eliminated for two years and then reinstated in 2006 with sharp reductions in fees will be cut again by 6%. After last year's reduction in fees for dental services, the number of dentists willing to treat people on Medicaid fell by 39%.

This is the kind of "cost-saving" measure that gives cover to policy makers. Technically, services are not being eliminated, but the effect of reducing fees will likely make services harder to find and poorer in quality. Many people with disabilities will not get the services they need and more families will give up in frustration, finding that the services that are available will not be worth the fight it will take to get them.

You can view the proposed changes here. To comment on them write:

MDCH/Medical Services Administration
Program Policy Division
PO Box 30479
Lansing, Michigan

Or email: