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Federal cuts will hurt Kandiyohi County

WILLMAR -- Senate approval of federal funding cuts to the Medicaid program will mean Kandiyohi County residents who currently receive certain family services will have those services cut. The same is expected to happen in every county in Minnesota and the rest of the United States.

"It's major blow to some of the most vulnerable and disabled and needy people in the United States," said Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Larry Kleindl on Wednesday, after the Senate voted 51 to 50 to approve the legislation. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., voted for the bill and Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., voted against it.

"I'm disappointed in our representatives and senator that voted for this bill and not against it," said Kleindl. He estimates that $1.2 million in federal and state money will be cut from Kandiyohi County's family service revenues.

The cuts are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

The cuts will reduce a variety of programs and services the county currently provides that help children, elderly residents, vulnerable adults and people with disabilities.

"It's a shock, I guess," said Kleindl. "I never thought that the Senate would ever go along with such cuts to hurt the poorest of the poor."

The House voted for the package early Monday morning. The Senate's version was approved Wednesday with the help of a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Dick Cheney. The House is expected to approve today the Senate's minor revisions.

"It's pretty devastating," said Kleindl. "We had faith in the system that they would find a good compromise."

Kleindl was on the phone much of Wednesday, talking with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to find out exactly what the legislation means and what the next step is in the process for how and when to implement the changes.

He said it's not known if Minnesota will continue to pay its 50 percent funding match to counties once the federal money isn't there.

Kleindl has had experience dealing with major budget cuts in the past. In 2003, when Minnesota implemented deficit-reduction measures, Kandiyohi County's Family Services Department lost $750,000. That money has never been restored, he said. Now, he and other family service directors around the state will have to develop a plan to incorporate the new reductions.

"My job as a leader and administrator is to find solutions," said Kleindl, who was concerned that having the federal cuts approved right before Christmas would cause unnecessary stress to clients who receive services and the employees who provide them.

Arlen Christianson, an advocate for people with disabilities who serves as the director of Arc Kandiyohi County, told the Kandiyohi County Commissioners on Tuesday that Arc Minnesotans deserve credit for trying to stop passage of the bill. He said more calls came from Minnesota than any other state. At Arc's state convention last month, Christianson said organizers stopped the meeting several times and asked participants to use their cell phones to call the Minnesota congressional delegation.

Christianson said the last time he tried calling Coleman's office to leave a message to vote against the proposal, his telephone mailbox was full.

"I know we fought a good fight," said Kleindl. "I thought we could win this one."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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