Candidates: HHS funding should be a priorityWORTHINGTON — Funding for health and human services should be a priority, especially in Greater Minnesota, candidates for state office said Tuesday.
WORTHINGTON — Funding for health and human services should be a priority, especially in Greater Minnesota, candidates for state office said Tuesday.
House and Senate candidates from District 22 addressed a crowd of more than 80 disabled individuals and their caretakers during “Coffee with the Candidates” at the Nobles County Government Center.
The event was sponsored by Habilitative Services Inc., New Dawn Inc., Client Community Services Inc. and COR.
Candidates tried to connect with health and human services workers during their opening statements, mentioning family members with disabilities and stressing the importance of caretakers.
The House candidates — Ted Winter and Joe Schomacker in District 22A and Rod Hamilton and Bill Brandt in District 22B — and the Senate candidates for District 22 — Kevin Vickerman and Doug Magnus — were asked questions related to the state’s budget deficit, quality of care for disabled individuals and Medicaid fraud.
When moderator Bruce Lease asked candidates how they would solve the state’s $5.8 billion deficit in the short and long term, they emphasized government efficiency and bottom-up management of human services.
“We just seem to see what we need to do to get us by through the next biennium,” said Vickerman. “We can grow revenue, but you’re not taking care of some spending requirements that we need. Everyone says we need to cut spending, but that’s not the answer. We need to be more efficient.”
“We need to be efficient and innovative,” added Winter. “We need to make sure if there’s a way we can do it better, that we go to you (caretakers) and see how you can be a help in that.”
Several men also stressed the importance of reining in government spending and putting a priority on HHS funding.
“My friends,” Hamilton told the crowd, “you are definitely a priority. When we have the legislature discussing dog parks and Xcel Energy bailouts before all of you, that’s not only upsetting, but disgusting. We need to be treating our residents as the adults they are. We should be driving the ship from down here.”
The second question — dealing with how candidates would protect the core health and safety services the forum’s sponsoring organizations provide — was answered most frequently with one word: priority.
“Health and human services workers are a top priority of mine because they deliver the services day-to-day,” asserted Winter. “The quality of care is dependent on how we treat and how we work with people in these facilities. We need to get more money to the system and have an increase in benefits and wages so we keep the good people who work in these facilities instead of constantly training in new staff.”
Candidates also said opportunities should be given to the disabled to work and care for themselves as much as possible, so more money can be funneled to more severely disabled folks.
The men were also asked how they would lead efforts to fight Medicaid fraud, saving an estimated $3 billion.
More and better fraud investigators were suggested, and cracking down on tax evasion would also save the state money, Magnus added.
Attendees asked candidates how they would deal with unemployment, reductions in living expenses for people in long-term care facilities and pay increases to reward HHS workers for longevity.
“I think the key to really getting to the root of the problem is having people like yourself come testify in St. Paul,” Brandt told caretakers. “It has to be a grassroots issue when we pass laws up to the state. If I am elected, I am going to be asking you to come forth with me.”
Mary Iliff of Habilitative Services Inc. asked the men to identify their top three priorities. Care for the disabled and elderly, balancing the budget and education topped the list.
“I’m a veteran and I’m not going to ask people to sacrifice for me, to go lose their lives or be permanently injured. That’s my number one priority,” said Magnus.
Added Schomaker, “We need to get government back in line with spending, grow the economy, and provide health care, safety and education, including for those who cannot provide it for themselves.”