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Budget cuts prompt letter campaign

By Dawn Schuett

schuett@postbulletin.com

State budget cuts prompted about 75 people to make lists and write letters Saturday in Rochester.

They participated in a forum at Rochester Community and Technical College sponsored by Southeast Minnesota Cares, a group that started last fall with members from nonprofit organizations, community groups, labor unions and faith-based institutions.

"We formed Southeast Minnesota Cares because we have witnessed these painful cuts," said the Rev. Todd Hawkins of Evanger Lutheran Church in Sargeant.

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Hawkins said members of the group are hearing from people they serve about hardships caused by state budget cuts in health care, child care and other areas.

The goal of the forum, Hawkins said, was to start a dialogue among people affected by the cuts and encourage them to get involved in lobbying lawmakers to restore funding or, at the least, prevent further budget cuts.

During small-group discussions, people made abbreviated lists of what programs have been affected by cuts. One list included child-care assistance, domestic violence intervention programs, Alternative Dispute Resolution Services, MinnesotaCare and programs of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Participants also heard more from speakers about cuts in social services and education and about how Olmsted County had to make up for less funding from the state through taxes and fees.

About half of the people at the forum were immigrants, and many of them were women. One of them, Selam Alem, a U.S. citizen originally from Ethiopia, said she's frustrated with MinnesotaCare, a state-subsidized health-care program. A concern of hers is the length of time people must wait before they can be covered by the program.

"It doesn't help to prevent or control diseases," Alem said.

Alem already has written letters to the governor and state lawmakers about the problems she sees with the health-care system.

Other forum participants drafted their own letters to legislators about state budget cuts during the event.

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Emma Greenman of the Affirmative Options Coalition, a St. Paul-based organization that works with low-income Minnesotans, said the letters allow legislators to read personal stories about the effect of budget cuts.

"Now is our chance to do something about it and make our voices heard," Greenman said.

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