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Already bare bones Mower County human services may not feel cuts in child protection funding

ST. PAUL — A $900 million budget-cutting bill working its way through the Minnesota Legislature is drawing fire from child abuse prevention advocates.

The bill includes more than $27 million in cuts over the next two-year budget cycle in Child and Community Service Assistance grants used by counties to help fund child protection services.

Connie Skillingstad with Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota said there has been a dramatic drop in the number of child abuse and neglect complaints in the state over the past two decades and she attributes that to county programs aimed at earlier intervention.

"We need legislators to be paying attention. It’s not just about cutting. They’ve got to look at the long-term human impacts of these things," she said.

The Minnesota House voted 68-61 on Wednesday in favor of the budget reduction bill. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure today. If it passes, it will head to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. The governor has stopped short of saying he will veto the bill but says he does not support a piecemeal approach to solve the state’s projected $6.2 billion deficit.


Local effects

But thanks to its already bare-bones program, the proposed cuts to the Children and Community Services Act at the state level may not be felt as harshly here.

"What it means is, when expenditures go up, could it affect us? Yes," said Julie Stevermer, director of Mower County Human Services. "But we've had to do some reductions in the last couple of years. It just means that we'll have ongoing concerns in trying to cover the most vulnerable children and adults."

Stevermer notes a clause in the CCSA statute about fiscal limitations when "a county has made reasonable efforts to provide services according to the service plan."

Mower County certainly falls into that category, she said.

"If you look at our budget, at what we've budgeted that's not a mandated program, that total is under $30,000," Stevermer said. That means that the balance of the annual budget is used to pay for programs required by state and federal governments.

"Really, the No. 1 priority with what (money) we have is services needed to protect individuals from maltreatment, abuse and neglect," she said, "regardless of what cuts come down the road."

Lawmaker reaction


Republicans who back the budget cutting bill argue that these are the same level of cuts to child protection services as passed last session by the then-DFL controlled Legislature. Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, told lawmakers on the House floor that these tough steps have to be taken in order to solve the state’s financial crisis.

"I was not elected to shirk away from the hard decisions, nay required, to take the state to fiscal responsibility," Quam said. "While there is no silver bullet or single solution, we must take the many modest steps to achieve the journey."

Democrats argue that federal stimulus money helped offset cuts in child protection funding for counties. But with those federal dollars gone, they say these cuts mean some of the most vulnerable members of society will be hurt.

"If the very first step of balancing the budget has to be cutting child protection, that does not bode well for the rest of the cuts," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester.

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