Criticism of Subcommittee Work Fails to Tell Whole Story

The Governor’s budget was a disappointment for disability and senior advocates. Given the destructive cuts in the recent biennium, we needed to have a budget that made a serious effort to restore these services.

Instead, we got a budget that:

*did not restore the rates for targeted case management for children and adults with mental illness that were cut more than 50%;
*did not shift funds from the greatly downsized Montana Developmental Center into services for people in the community; and then
* contained $23 million in cuts to the senior and long-term care budget, including a $15 million cut to waiver services to keep people in their homes and provide assisted living services.

The legislative subcommittee tasked with working on this part of the budget had very little to work with. They heard from advocates, service providers, and people who receive those services about the impacts of the severe cuts made by the Governor and Legislature in the last two years.  The subcommittee heard about people with serious mental illness becoming homeless or being sent to hospitals or jails because of the loss of critical supports, people left to sit in their own soiled clothes because home services hours were slashed, serious shortages of staff to do critical support work with people with developmental disabilities, and seniors unable to stay in their assisted living facility.

The subcommittee listened and responded by taking steps to address the very real problems in our communities.  They:

* shifted $3.5 million to psychiatric targeted case management rates;
* shifted $3.6 million from a bloated MT Developmental Center budget — a downsized institution that continues to have shockingly high rates of abuse and neglect of its residents — to services for people with developmental disabilities in our communities;
*shifted $1 million to senior and long-term care waiver services from the Older Montanans’ trust fund; and
*increased the reimbursement rate for assisted living and memory care to increase access to  these services for seniors and those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and divert people from unnecessary nursing home stays.

These facts got very little coverage by the Montana press. Instead, their focus was on the subcommittee’s decision to eliminate the appropriation for roughly 100 open positions at DPHHS.  These 100 positions are just one fourth of the 400 open positions at MT DPHHS. They have not been filled for more than a year – some of them for almost two years. Eliminating the 100 positions freed up about $9 million that could be shifted to direct services for people, but allowed DPHHS to retain $27 million in spending authority flexibility in the form of its 300 currently open positions.  It has the ability to shift the appropriation and the job positions around throughout the Department to cover those for which they lost their appropriation.

This was not easy work and the subcommittee came together to find the best options to fund services for people in the community.  Given that there is little interest in the majority to increase revenue, this was the best that could be done without sacrificing critical community services.  It will take years for the community service system to recover after the decisions of the past two years. While we know that DPHHS had to tighten its belt over the last two years, that just doesn’t compare to the pain felt by people around the state who lost critical services.  To Representatives Moore, Ballance, Ryan, Burnett, and Caferro, and Senators Olszewski, Keenan, Jacobson and McNally – thank you for listening to the Montanans that came to Helena to testify and for doing your best to help community services recover from the harm done over the last two years.

Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, Executive Director, Disability Rights Montana
Travis Hoffman, Advocacy Coordinator, Summit Independent Living
Joel Peden, Advocacy Coordinator, Montana Independent Living Project
Jen Cleland, Executive Director, Living Independently for Today and Tomorrow
Rose M. Hughes, Executive Director, Montana Health Care Association
Barbara Mettler, Director, South Central Montana Regional Mental Health Center
Dave Eaton, President, Montana Association of Community Disability Services


We will be posting an electronic newsletter each Friday during the 2019 legislative session.  We will give you information about upcoming budget and general bill hearings, developments for other bills we are following and action alerts when these bills are coming up for votes.