In the current economic downturn, millions of families and individuals are trying to cope with unemployment and home foreclosures. And as many people look to whatever is left of the governmental social safety net, at least 36 states are dealing with budget shortfalls by reducing social services, including those for some of their most vulnerable residents, according to a recent report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
The states have received some relief from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the $787 billion federal stimulus package; but the CBPP notes that the $140 billion in stimulus money for the states only fills about 40 percent of $350 billion to 370 billion shortfall they face over the next two-and-a-half years.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled Legislature could not agree on a solution to the state’s $2.7 billion state budget deficit. So the governor is balancing the budget by cutting spending items passed in the legislative session – a process called unallotment. DFL legislative leaders charge that Pawlenty is exceeding his legal authority with the huge spending cuts and accounting shifts. Minnesota Public Radio reported in June that the DFLers are especially riled up by the governor’s plan to save $1.8 billion by delaying payments to schools districts and changing the timing on when the districts record local property tax revenues.
Underlining the analysis of the CBPP report mentioned above, Dane Smith and Charlie Quimby, of the Growth & Justice think tank in Minneapolis, wrote recently for MinnPost.com: “Although the governor has made some movement away from the hard line he took during the legislative session, unallotment will still disproportionately affect the poorest and the least powerful Minnesotans. Those immediate impacts are becoming clearer: Health care will be out of reach for more low-income citizens, community colleges will cost more, public school districts serving low-income children will spend more on interest.”
I also noticed that among the laundry list of Pawlenty’s unallotment revisions in late June, $200,000 in state funds was restored to the White Earth Band of Ojibwe for an American Indian Child Welfare (AICW) grant. Writing on The Political Animal blog of the St. Paul Pioneer Press website, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger reported that the unallotment amount has been adjusted to $600,000 in fiscal year 2010.
The Minnesota Department of Social Services proudly announced, in May, that the White Earth and Leech Lake bands were “strengthening tribal child welfare services for hundreds of American Indian children and their families, following the recent signing of two Minnesota Department of Human Services grant contracts. The contracts, part of the American Indian Child Welfare Initiative, transferred authority and responsibility for responding to reports of child abuse and neglect from neighboring counties to the tribes. The tribes will provide a full continuum of services that conform to tribal customs and traditions,” etc.
I don’t know if this grant money has now been slashed by Pawlenty, or if the funds are from a different AICW allocation. Perhaps a “Political Matters” reader can fill me in.