Friday, May 2, 2014

Restore cuts to programs for people with disabilities

Michigan residents need to make our lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder aware that budget miscalculations and cuts are likely to leave many thousands of people with mental illness and disabilities with reduced services essential for their survival.

More than $100 million of statewide general fund support for the state’s 46 Community Mental Health Authorities was cut, the CMH board projects. Among the hardest hit were the CMHs in Oakland and Macomb counties. The funds were to be replaced by the “Healthy Michigan” revenue, but the program didn’t kick in quick enough to bridge the shortfall.

The Legislature delayed implementation of Healthy Michigan, a program passed last August by lawmakers to enroll more than 300,000 Michigan residents in Medicaid, from Jan. 1 to April 1, resulting in less federal money to serve those with mental illness and disabilities.

“Unfortunately, the promise to do ‘no harm’ has been broken,” said Michael Vizena, executive director of the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards. “Errors were made, and savings were withdrawn before sufficient Healthy Michigan revenue was available to replace lost revenue.”

John Kinch, executive director of the Macomb County Community Mental Health Authority, said, “It is important to continue to draw community and legislator attention to the seriousness of the current general fund reductions and impact on our consumers.”

The general fund reductions have placed us in a “difficult financial services situation,” he said.

The Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority anticipates its expenditures for fiscal year 2014 will exceed funding by $22 million, a spokeswoman said. Large deficits are projected for 2014-15.

The general fund payments to the state’s community health agencies also were cut to $13.9 million in May and will continue to be reduced to $4.3 million each month through September. Under this reality, there is no way to provide needed services to the 260,000 who currently receive them.

In addition, some mental health executives say many individuals served through entities that provide services from OCCMHA funds will not qualify for the Healthy Michigan plan, leaving individuals with limited services.

Instead of using all of the projected $1.3 billion surplus to fix roads and other things why not use $100 million to restore cuts of service to those with disabilities? We’re supposed to be a compassionate society so let’s show it by taking care of the most vulnerable people in society.

Jerry Wolffe is the “Voices of Disabilities” columnist and a rights advocate. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.