Kathleen Gearin, chief judge of Ramsey County, issued a temporary restraining order yesterday to restore funding to a program that provides food assistance to Minnesotans with complex medical dietary needs. The ruling specifically noted the constitutionality of unallotment as a law, but noted several issues with the way in which it was recently used by Governor Pawlenty. She interpreted that the use of this power is intended to be limited to addressing unforeseen budget shortfalls: “[unallotment] is not meant to be used as a weapon by the executive branch to break a stalemate in budget negotiations with the Legislature or to rewrite the appropriations bill.”
More coverage on this story can be found at MinnPost, the Star Tribune, and MPR News.
Judge Gearin also noted that simply reversing unallotment entirely is not within the boundaries of the judiciary, and that it will be necessary for the Legislature and the Governor to revisit the budget in a much more comprehensive way. While 2010 is scheduled to be a relatively calmer bonding session, this ruling could signal a much more active session as 2009 cuts are reconsidered. As we have said before, some compromise on the budget will continue to be necessary. However, we are greatly concerned by cuts that disproportionally affect Minnesotans with mental illnesses, such as the elimination of General Assistance Medical Care. GAMC is a much larger budget item, and is unlikely to be restored in a similar fashion. But we believe this underscores how critical it is to find a workable solution that acknowledges the necessity of these services.
There’s a long way to go before we know the final outcome. While the grant of a stay does send a signal about the judge’s assessment of the likely final outcome, the Governor has already announced his intent to respond. In addition, this suit is limited to one relatively small program of the many that were cut. But it reminds us that the budget of the state and many social services are still hanging in the balance. For anyone who cares about mental health services in Minnesota, it is critical to remain informed about the budget process and to talk to your legislators about the programs that you value.
Please check back soon, as we will continue to post here and send out email to our Public Policy Update subscribers. We expect to have more information shortly about cuts to the Personal Care Assistance program, which provides a measure of independence for many people with disabilities, including serious mental illnesses.