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May 16, 2011
ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's now one week until the end of Minnesota's regular legislative session, and state lawmakers are scrambling to finalize the state budget. The latest version of the Health and Human Services budget bill passed late last week in conference committee has child advocates worried about the fate of Minnesota's children.
Alexandra Fitzsimmons, legislative affairs and advocacy director withChildren's Defense Fund-Minnesota, says the bill's reductions to critical support services for children and families take the state in the wrong direction, as documented in a just-released report.
"Children have always been a priority for our state, and they should be a priority for our state. But when so many families are struggling to make ends meet, and are struggling to provide their children with basic needs, it's just not the time to cut these important programs. Now is the time to make these investments, so we have the development for the future."
Fitzsimmons says the biggest areas of concern include cuts to prevention and intervention services that will place vulnerable children at greater risk of peril; cuts to work supports that will push families with children deeper into poverty; and shifting more low-income families into the private insurance market, which will put affordable health care out of reach for thousands of Minnesota families.
She says one of the more worrisome cuts is to the Children and Community Services Act (CCSA) grants, which provide funding to counties to serve at-risk children, because more than 70 percent of that funding goes toward the child protection system and child mental health services.
"In 2009, there were 25,000 reports of child neglect and abuse in Minnesota. What we know is that children who experience neglect and abuse are at high risks for delays in cognitive capacity, and language and academic achievement."
The Children's Defense Fund estimates that about 100,000 Minnesota children will be affected by CCSA cuts during 2012 and 2013.
Under the current bill, children with a disabled parent would see a $50 reduction in assistance through the Minnesota Family Investment Program, or a $100 reduction if both parents are disabled, Fitzsimmons warns.
"It may not sound like a lot of money, but for a family already struggling to make ends meet, and also facing these other obstacles, that's a significant hit."
She adds that, in practical terms, this could make the difference in the family's ability to pay their water or phone bill. There are currently about 6,400 Minnesota families with a disabled parent.
The full Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota analysis of the proposed budget cuts is available at http://www.cdf-mn.org.