NEWS DAY | Budgets on the line / Taking food from the sick / Running around in the cold, freezing to death / Health care, Afghanistan, Philippines

Budgets on the line: Police to helpers to hospitals Police chief Tim Dolan told the Minneapolis City Council that the police department will have a budget deficit of up to $4.2 million this year, far higher than expected. The MPD annual budget is about $135 million. The Star Tribune reported that the city council reaction was strong:

“That’s the most outlandish thing I’ve ever heard,” said [Council member Elizabeth] Glidden, normally understated in her comments. “How are you that far off? … This is a really big management issue.”

Dolan attributed the budget overruns to a variety of factors, including $220,000 billed by other cities for responding to the 35W bridge collapse, $300,000 in extra jail fees, $500,000 in higher fuel costs, and fewer officers taking retirement incentives. The MPD did eliminate 30 full-time and 20 part-time positions. The MPD also got much less in federal stimulus money that Mayor R.T. Rybak had said it could expect. Rybak’s proposed MPD budget for the year ahead will require $5.3 million in cuts, which Dolan says will require lay-offs.

Also on Friday, the Hennepin County Board heard
from representatives of some 78 nonprofits who will lose $5 million in funding under proposed budget cuts. Tuesday a committee will consider restoring some of the cuts, especially for “family focus” programs, according to the Star Tribune. But the Hennepin County Human Services Department is facing a $63 million reduction from the 2009 budget of $532 million. Among the programs threatened by cuts is the Southside Family Nurturing Center, whose director, Barb Olson, spoke to the commissioners. According to SSFNC’s website, it serves approximately 100 families with 130-160 children in the Phillips neighborhood each year:

  • 100% of our families are at risk for child abuse and neglect, while 95% are at the highest risk, based on factors outlined by the Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • 65% of our families are experiencing or have already experienced violence in the home
  • 80% of our families are living below the Federal Poverty Level, with the remaining 20% living just above it.
  • Many parents referred to SFNC exhibit severe, complex emotional and social problems, including depression, chemical dependence, family violence, developmental delays, and the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome
  • 75-85% of the children we serve demonstrate mild to moderate developmental delays in speech and language skills, fine and gross motor coordination, and problem-solving skills

Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) is “bleeding” according to another Star Tribune article, and part of the overall Hennepin County budget crisis comes from the effort to staunch the bleeding and keep HCMC functioning.

Already this year, the hospital has cut 200 positions and slashed overtime. It is poised to shed more jobs and services as it braces for another $43 million cut in revenue when the state terminates a key program for the indigent.

Doctors say a cut that size would threaten the hospital’s very mission: treating everyone who walks in regardless of ability to pay. It would “tip this hospital over and create a crisis,” said Dr. Joseph Clinton, chief of emergency medicine. “It would mean unacceptable deaths for patients who can’t get care.”

Taking food from the sick That’s what Governor Tim Pawlenty did in his unallotment of $5.3 million from a special dietary program, and that’s the cut being challenged in a lawsuit by six of the people whose food money will disappear. The program, according to the Star Tribune, covered only 5,072 Minnesotans, receiving a monthly diet supplement that averaged $77. The enrollees have 11 special dietary conditions, and must have a letter from a doctor requiring a special diet in order to apply for the supplement.

Frederick Beeton is one of the people who were enrolled in the program. The Star Tribune reports:

At 65, Becton endures constant pain from a bad shoulder. Hepatitis C leaves him exhausted, and late-stage kidney disease tethers him to a dialysis machine three days a week.

For five years, Becton’s doctor has considered his medical problems so severe that she prescribed a special diet, heavy on lean meats, vegetables and grains.

Now, says the state, Beeton and the other 5,071 people should “scour local food shelves, apply for food stamps, or, for those with feeding tubes, Medical Assistance.”

MinnPost tells the story of Deeanna Brayton, one of the six plaintiffs:

Deanna Brayton, 49, is disabled by multiple health problems: autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, underactive thyroid, irritable bowel syndrome, traumatic brain injury. She has undergone 47 surgeries since being involved in a severe car accident — not her fault, she says — more than a decade ago. She also suffers from migraine headaches, anxiety and a host of other problems.
The Anoka County woman tries to do the best she can with her health by maintaining a doctor-prescribed low-cholesterol, lactose- and gluten-free diet.
“The foods I need always cost more,” she says. “Go down the aisle of the store for diabetics and you’ll get a sense of the difference in cost.”

She would “love to work,” says Brayton, but just can’t.

DFL House members have filed an amicus brief, saying the governor’s unallotment violated the law. Former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug described the grounds for the challenge in a MinnPost article:

He said the unallotment plan — which followed the governor’s May veto of the legislative budget-balancing plan  — violated the state law because it was put in place even before the new biennium started. The law, Lillehaug said, allows unallotment when there is an unanticipated budget shortage, not when the financial problem had long been known.

The lawsuit challenges unallotment as it affects the nutrition program and the renters’ credit for low-income households – a total of about $56 million out of the $2.7 billion in unallotments made by the governor.

People running around in the cold freezing to death That’s what Union Gospel Mission’s director fears will happen, as St. Paul shelters are full to overflowing, and the worst of winter lies ahead. MPR reports that UGM has to turn away about 15 people a night now. And they’re not alone.

“The truth of the matter is we were full long before the recession started, and we are beyond full at this point,” said Rebecca Lentz, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities. …
Shelter providers say the high numbers are particularly alarming because the weather has been relatively mild. When winter arrives, providers expect the numbers will far exceed the current resources of area shelters.

And then there are Governor Pawlenty’s cuts to emergency general assistance, which were effective November 1.

The program had provided emergency payments for rent and utilities. Last year, over 11,000 households accessed funding, mostly to avoid evictions, move from a homeless shelter into an apartment, or prevent utility shut-offs.


World/National – Health care, Afghanistan, Philippines

The big news Saturday night was bringing some kind of health care bill to the Senate floor. That took strong-arming, promises, and wheeling and dealing in the oldest political style, with Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana boasting of getting $300 million in federal funding for her home state as a precondition for her support, according to the Washington Post.

“I am not going to be defensive,” she declared. “And it’s not a $100 million fix. It’s a $300 million fix.” …
After Landrieu threw in her support (she asserted that the extra Medicaid funds were “not the reason” for her vote), the lone holdout in the 60-member Democratic caucus was Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Like other Democratic moderates who knew a single vote could kill the bill, she took a streetcar named Opportunism, transferred to one called Wavering and made off with concessions of her own.

Both of them still say they won’t support the bill for passage as long as it has the current public option. At NPR, Guy Raz, interviewing former Senator Tom Daschle, asked the question that many of us think is crucial:

In the end, if you need to compromise so much to get the 60 votes, how do you make sure the result isn’t simply a watered down version of health care legislation that doesn’t do all that much at achieving the goal of insuring millions of uninsured people?

Four more U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan on Sunday, reports the New York Times, bringing the total for November to 15. (October set a record, with 58 U.S. deaths.) Two of the soldiers killed on Sunday died in a bombing in southern Afghanistan, another in a firefight in southern Afghanistan, and a the fourth in a bomb explosion in the eastern part of the country.

As the war grinds on, President Hamid Karzai was inaugurated for a second term and promised to fight corruption. The promise, as the Guardian points out, is a requirement of continued U.S. and allied support:

Karzai’s inauguration followed an election process blighted by fraud, which only ended after his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of a runoff, saying it was impossible for the vote to be fair….
Before the ceremony, the US, UK and other frustrated Nato countries had urged Karzai to use his inauguration speech announce a government clean-up.

If Karzai were really going to clean up corruption, he would have to begin close to home. Back in May, McClatchy News reported that Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother and the head of Kandahar’s provincial council, threatened a reporter who was writing about drugs and corruption in Afghanistan (“The ride to Kandahar airport was tense. The Afghan president’s brother had just yelled a litany of obscenities and said he was about to beat me.”). In October, the New York Times reportedthat the president’s brother, in addition to his suspected corruption and drug involvement, is probably on the CIA payroll.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.
The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

As I’ve pointed out in this column, more than once, General McChrystal’s proposed new U.S. strategy is based not only on more U.S. troops, but more crucially on a credible, responsible Afghan government – which simply does not exist.

Minnesota’s Rep. Keith Ellison is one of many congress members who are coming to the conclusion that we should not send more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan. According to MinnPost:

Rep. Keith Ellison, back from a trip last week to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said today that a new strategy is needed in the region – one that doesn’t include sending more troops to U.S. troops to Afghanistan until that country’s president, Hamid Karzai, cleans up corruption and “makes himself into a president that the United States can support.”

In the Philippines, the 500-year civil war in Mindanao grinds on. The New York Times reports displacement of hundreds of thousands of people on the island. And this weekend, 21 politicians and journalists were massacred.BBC reports:

Election violence is not unusual in the Philippines but the scale of this attack is shocking. Every election period features assassinations of rivals, particularly in provincial areas where the forces of law and order are often tightly connected to local clans.

… In this case, the Mangudadatu and Ampatuan clans were not always at war – but the Mangudadatu family’s bid to run for governor appears to have provoked a dramatic rise in tension.

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