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Don’t be fooled, Montana: Budget cuts are to the most vulnerable, not bureaucracy

Guest column published in the Missoulian
November 16,2017

Gov. Steve Bullock has called a special session to address budget shortfalls. We all hoped that any special session would include efforts to eliminate human services cuts that will hurt vulnerable Montanans. But don’t be fooled. As called, the special session will not protect the disabled, elderly and other Montanans in need. The best-case scenario from the special session as called assumes $110 million in cuts to the Department of Public Health and Human Services, with most of those cuts not to the bureaucracy, but to direct services to people — the cuts that hurt the most.

These are cuts to critical community and health services provided by small businesses throughout the state. They are in addition to cuts proposed by the administration earlier this year, which are on hold but still loom as a possibility and are not part of the special session. Providers are already taking steps such as closing group homes, limiting services and laying off staff. These cuts hurt those who depend on the services and cost Montanans jobs and the tax revenue from that employment.

The $110 million in cuts include eliminating or significantly reducing: 

• Medicaid coverage of dentures for adults, including elderly people in nursing homes and at home who must have dentures to maintain basic nutrition.

• Mental health services that will further diminish rural services, increase admissions to the State Hospital, and erode progress on jail diversion, which saves counties money.

• Funding to independent living projects, which assist disabled Montanans with basic needs such as bathing and dressing so they can go to work and pay taxes.

• Programs which keep seriously mentally ill children from being sent to institutions and stabilize them at home, where long-term success is more likely.

• Services that provide in-home care and assisted living for physically disabled and elderly people, while saving money by avoiding higher cost services.

• Family Education and Support services, which help families of people with developmental disabilities to provide care and be less dependent on outside assistance.

• Evaluation and Diagnosis Clinics that provide early diagnosis and facilitate treatment of developmental disabilities, even though early detection is the best and most cost-effective approach.

• Incontinence supplies for Montanans who can’t afford such essential supplies, but can’t function without them.

• Adult targeted case management, which helps people with severe mental illness avoid institutionalization, resulting in more pressure on state institutions, which cost nearly $600 per patient per day. 

• Targeted case management for people with developmental disabilities.

• Substance abuse services despite lengthy waiting lists and increased demands due to sentencing revisions.

Montana is in a budget crunch, but to propose cuts that will have such severe impacts to our fellow Montanans and our communities is the wrong way to go. Other options must be explored. In part, cuts are being proposed to comply with a 2015 state law that requires a general fund surplus of around $143 million — much more than previously required. Going back to the pre-2015 level could eliminate many of these cuts.

Re-examining the ending fund balance and all other options must be discussed. It is unacceptable to hold a special session that defines success as cutting essential services to people. A budget reflects our values. The current budget proposal says we place little value on our elderly, disabled, mentally ill and other vulnerable neighbors.

Contact the governor’s office and your legislators to tell them Montana’s values are not reflected in the proposed cuts and that the special session needs to look at other options.

 

This opinion is signed by Beth Brenneman, Disability Rights Montana; Rev. David Andersen, Montana Association of Christians; Dave Hemion, Montana Dental Association; Joel Peden, Montana Independent Living Project; Rose Hughes, Montana Health Care Association and Montana Association of Community Disability Services; Sue Weingartner, Montana Optometric Association; Marti Wangen, Montana Podiatric Medical Association; Duncan Campbell and Michele McKinnie, Montana Psychological Association; Catherine Drescher, Montana Speech-Language-Hearing Association; Travis Hoffman, Summit Independent Living; Jodi Daly, Western Montana Mental Health Center; Brenda Kneeland, Eastern Montana Community Mental Health Center; Barbara Mettler, South Central Regional Mental Health Center; and Sydney Blair, Center for Mental Health.


Medicaid Providers Say State Health Department Putting Unfair Share of Cuts on Them

Written by Holly K. Michels in the Independent Record on July 24, 2017 - holly.michels@lee.net

In an attempt to adapt to significant budget cuts, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is proposing to reduce reimbursements to doctors and others who treat patients on Medicaid by nearly 3.5 percent.

Providers say that cut is too severe and an unfair way for the department to put the burden of belt-tightening disproportionately on them.

The state legislative committee that oversees the department will file a formal objection to the proposed cuts as well, saying it conflicts with how lawmakers intended the agency make ends meet.

The cuts are included in a proposed administrative rule. The health department will hold a hearing on the proposed rule this Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in Helena at 111 N. Sanders St. and is meeting with reporters Wednesday to discuss the cuts.

The department could have to reduce its budget by $14 million under a law passed by the Legislature this spring requiring mandatory cuts if state revenues came in below what was expected. An announcement is expected Tuesday on how severe cuts will be . . . . Click here to read the entire article.


DRM Education Website and Student Rights Handbook

Disability Rights Montana launched its Education Website and published its Student Rights Handbook. The project is designed to help parents, advocates, and educators learn about the legal requirements and resources available for students with disabilities and to help ensure the civil and legal rights of students with disabilities are protected to the maximum extent of the law.  The site focuses on the educational rights of children with disabilities, but also covers information applicable to students with disabilities of all ages. Our Education Website can be accessed here on our home page by clicking "Education" on the Menu Bar above or directly at http://disabilityrightsmt.org/education. The Student Rights manual can be found on the site or directly at http://disabilityrightsmt.org/education/student-rights.  

On the site you will find information about DRM′s education workgroup, the legal rights of students with disabilities, resources for parents, students and educators, and sample forms to assist parents and advocates in protecting student’s rights. It is our hope that this website will be a valuable resource for everyone working to educate Montanans of all abilities. 

We welcome feedback and comments for how we can improve our Education Website as well as information about resources and practitioners we should include. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to contact DRM. DRM’s Education Website and Student Rights Handbook were authored by Tal Goldin, supervising attorney for DRM’s Education Unit, with editing assistance from Kelsi Steele, DRM Education Advocate, and Laurie Danforth, DRM paralegal and executive assistant.  The project was supported in part by a generous grant from the Montana Justice Foundation.

 

DRM releases its October 16, 2017, electronic newsletter

The articles in this edition include the Governor's proposed cuts to DPHHS Services; the retirement of Steve Heaverlo, Advocacy Specialist with DRM for 29 years; introductions of new DRM staff; and information on the upcoming Montana State Conference on Mental Illness. Click this link to the newsletter.


Disability Rights Montana's specialty license plate is now available. You can purchase the plate by visiting your county treasurer's office. A one-time administrative fee and production cost for the specialty plate will be collected along with the standard vehicle registration fee and sponsor donation fee.

DRM License Plate Design

$20 Yearly Tax-deductible Donation to DRM
$10 One-time Administration Fee
$10 One-time Production Cost

Please show your support with the DRM license plate! Your purchase of the plate includes a $20 tax-deductible donation to support DRM and its work to protect the rights of Montanans with disabilities.


Montana Mental Health Care Advance Directive

With the creation of advance medical care directives being so popular, people are also asking if they need a Mental Health Care Advance Directive to document their wishes for treatment and care in the event that they become incapacitated through a mental illness. The purpose of the Mental Health Care Advance Directive is to "promote more timely, informed, compassionate, and effective mental health care," among others. See Mont. Code Ann. § 53-21-1301. Disability Rights Montana has created a form and instructions to assist people who experience mental illness to prepare a Mental Health Care Advance Directive to prepare for the possibility that they may become unable to express their own wishes regarding their care and treatment. A Mental Health Care Advance Directive provides the legal authority for provision of mental health care during a period of incapacity, even over the person’s own protests. Mont. Code Ann. § 53-21-1301.

This Mental Health Care Advance Directive form and associated documents and instructions are not legal advice, nor are they a substitute for consultation with an attorney.  Click here to download the Montana Mental Health Care Advance Directive form and instructions.


Triumph From the Trenches - a WIN for People with Disabilities!

Written by: Montana Fair Housing

Kristen Newman, Montana Fair Housing and the US Department of Justice won, by unanimous verdict following a seven-day trial, $37,343 in compensatory and punitive damages against Jaclyn Katz, a Real Estate Broker and agent, and property manager in Bozeman.

Kristen Newman, a person with disabilities, was charged a $1,000 security deposit for her service dog, Riley. At trial, Kristen testified that Riley assisted her in living with the symptoms of her disabilities, and that she repeatedly informed Katz that charging a deposit for a service animal was illegal, adding that she understood she would have to pay for any damage caused by Riley. Katz refused to waive the deposit for Riley, and even threatened to terminate Newman’s tenancy.

In September 2013, Kristen contacted Montana Fair Housing for support and information. "Being able to go to Montana Fair Housing for help and have people who would be there for me from beginning to very end, was integral for me as a person with a disability."

In December of 2013 Ms. Newman and Montana Fair Housing filed complaints of housing discrimination with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Despite multiple efforts during the HUD investigation to conciliate the cases, Katz refused to change her practices. In August of 2014, HUD issued a finding of reasonable cause to believe Katz discriminated against both Kristen and Montana Fair Housing.

Following the issuance of the charge, the Defendants elected to file in federal court.

The verdict includes $11,043 in compensatory damages for Ms. Newman, $20,000 in punitive damages for Ms. Newman, and $6,300 for Montana Fair Housing, Inc.

For additional information or assistance, please contact:

Montana Fair Housing
501 East Front Street, Suite 504
Butte, MT  59701
Montana Relay: 711
Voice 406-782-2573
website: http://www.montanafairhousing.org/ 

 

Best Practices in Community Services for People Who Have Developmenta...

Below is a video of a converation with Allan Bergman with a positive view of the national movement to close institutions, as it has led to the creation of systems that help people live fuller and more positive lives than they had in institutional settings.

This video is a follow-up to the first in the bipartisan public education series "Best Practices in Community Services for People who have Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities" which was held on March 23, 2016, at the Montana Capitol. The bipartisan public education series was developed by Senator Ed Buttrey and Senator Mary Caferroto to help build More....

DRM Releases Report
Disability Rights Montana released a report January 23, 2015, with significant details of numerous case stories of abuse and neglect at the Montana Developmental Center.  Investigations conducted by the Department of Justice over the course of the past year reveal that twenty-seven staff members, including the Director of Quality Assurance and Superintendent, have been involved in the case stories.  Some of the cases involve serious injuries, rape, and felony assault.   

DRM has monitored MDC for more than twenty years, and cites a climate and culture at MDC that perpetuates and tolerates abuse.  The cases cited in the report document slapping, grabbing, squeezing, pulling residents by the ankles, throwing them hard to the ground, kneeling o More....