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Lobbying goes on for children's funding

By Dawn Schuett

schuett@postbulletin.com

It might be late in the 2003 legislative session, but advocates for low-income families aren't letting the calendar stop them from lobbying to protect state-funded programs for the poor.

At a meeting Thursday in Rochester, officials from the Children's Defense Fund Minnesota told about 30 local representatives from human-service and health-care agencies to call, write and e-mail legislators to support a fair budget plan to eliminate the state's $4.2 billion deficit and not eliminate services for low-income families.

"If you keep beating the drum, they can't continue to ignore us," said Beth Haney, research director for the Children's Defense Fund Minnesota.

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The event, called the Kids Count Coffee, was sponsored by Children's Defense Fund Minnesota and Covering Kids and Families, a program to enroll uninsured families in health-care coverage plans.

Haney talked briefly about a recent study that examined the well-being of children in the state's 87 counties. If the final state budget drastically reduces programs for low-income families, it will negatively affect the well-being of children, said Minh Ta, public policy director for the Children's Defense Fund. The governor, Senate and House have each proposed a budget plan.

Ta said proposed cuts in public health-care coverage, early childhood education and child-care assistance would be a step backward for struggling families.

Sue Freytag, coordinator for the Salvation Army Acute Care Free Clinic, said she already has seen an increase in clinic patients suffering from a chronic illness who are eligible for MinnesotaCare but can't afford the premium.

A patient with a disease such as diabetes, which could be managed with treatment, doesn't get help, and her health might worsen to a point where her life is at risk, Freytag said.

"I just don't see the justice in it," she said. "I think, with a little effort, we could save a lot of these programs."

Beth Arendt, family support and assistance supervisor for Olmsted County and program manager for Covering Kids and Families, said that, although service providers expect programs to be reduced, they still have time to act in an advocacy role.

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