Monthly Archives

October 2009

Friendship House

By | Health Care, Rice County | No Comments

What is the cost of not paying for mental health care? What is the cost of turning our backs on persons with mental disabilities? What is the cost of failing to provide community support for some of our most vulnerable citizens?
This past Wednesday I had the privilege to sit down with my friends at the Friendship House in Faribault. Among the two dozen or so persons present were consumers, case managers, the director, clinical psychologists, case managers, social workers, and a couple of legislators. The discussion touched on a variety of topics, but the concerns kept coming back to adequate state funding. As a state we must continue to find the resources to support organizations like Friendship House. Success is more likely if an individual has access to a combination of medication, supportive counseling and community support services, including education and vocational training. Working to keep those with mental disease out of our Psychiatric hospitals saves millions of dollars while providing dignity and a basic quality of life. It’s a small price to pay.
Friendship House continues to provide the supportive environment in which mental health consumers can socialize, and provide and receive support. With our help, educating and informing the public, employers, and policy makers, a higher value will be placed on recovery and the quality of life that a person with a severe mental illness can achieve.

Educating Every Child

By | Education, Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 20 | No Comments

ARc imageMy brother Andy was born in 1977. In many ways, it was a sad day in our household. When he died nearly 20 years later, an entire community mourned.
Andy was born with Down’s syndrome. My mother had no early prognosis. My grandmother, visibly distraught, broke the news to me and my younger brother and sister. We had no idea what Down’s meant, but we knew that Andy would have physical and mental limitations for the rest of his life. Words like retarded or even mongoloid were still part of the vernacular at that time. I remember my sister, crying, and apologizing to my mother for the sign that hung in her teenage bedroom proclaiming “Mental Ward.” We just didn’t know.
Within weeks, someone from the school system visited our home and several times a week he would work with Andy. “John” worked with my tiny brother to assist with therapy and family support. As I reminisce, I realize how important this early intervention was to Andy’s continued success in addressing his physical as well as his developmental disabilities. His visits were important to us as a family. Progress was slow, but our family and our support services were diligent and patient.
Eventually, Andy attended school. He was given every opportunity to experience success both academically and socially. I never questioned his joy for life and the quality of his life in and out of school. His world was rich with friendships: from the postal carrier, the police chief, the local merchants, the Principal, teachers, and his basketball teammates. He liked to hang out at the YMCA. He tended to chores at home and found time for video games. He even held a job at the local recycling center. His proudest moment was a trip to prom in my step dad’s convertible.
This morning I was part of a legislative panel at the Arc of Minnesota State Convention. Parents and advocates of students with disabilities still struggle with issues of inclusion, a quality education, and quality of life issues. Thirty two years ago, my experiences gave me hope that we were on the right path: making sure that our students with disabilities be educated to the maximum extent possible. Challenges still remain due to underfunding, limited educational opportunities, shortages of sufficiently trained teachers and support personnel, lack of planning time, unreasonable testing requirements, and burdensome paperwork. We know what works. We have been working at it for awhile. We should continue moving forward, not backward.
Andy died in the summer of 1996 during elective heart surgery to replace a valve. There was standing room only at his funeral. We lost a family member, a student, a community member, and a young citizen. It was indeed a sad day. Our lives are a little richer for having been a part of his life.

Education Challenges Ahead

By | Education | No Comments

one roomNot surprisingly, several of our Minnesota schools are struggling with the issue of declining enrollment. One of the largest school districts in the state, the Anoka-Hennepin district, has lost 2000 students in the past five years and after a 5-1 vote by the school board Monday night; the district will be closing eight schools. While school finance can be a complicated subject, one aspect of it can be summarized rather simply – fewer students mean fewer dollars in the operating budgets of school districts. While the larger school districts make the choice to close schools or cut staff, smaller districts wrestle with smaller class sizes to the point that efficiency is lost and grade sharing and reorganization with other school districts become critical to long term survival. None of these changes is easy work.
While declining enrollment and other factors are shrinking school district’s budgets, the expectation for educating today’s students have never been higher. The Federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that school districts demonstrate that all students meet “proficiency levels” in their learning or the district or building may face penalties. The school teachers and administrators that I work with are up to the challenge, in fact their passion for what is best for our students remain strong.
Still, educating our students given the global demands of our times has become increasingly complex. To do it well with the financial limitations of today, our local schools may not look like they did when most of us were students in the K-12 system. This is true of how we deliver education and how our schools are funded. Reliance on referenda and fundraising is not the right approach to ensuring our schools get the resources they need.
It is important that we continue to educate ourselves and remain open to change. Clinging too tightly to the past rather than keeping our focus on what’s ultimately best for kids will only delay the process of finding solutions. The same is true for bickering and placing blame. Parent and community involvement and support will be essential. Serve on parent advisory committees. Get involved in your child’s activities. Sit down with school teachers, administrators, and board members and learn about the challenges our schools are facing. The challenges are great, but not insurmountable. Let’s work together to ensure that our future in Minnesota is secure.

Commerce Committee & Banks

By | Economy | No Comments

bankOn Tuesday, October 6, the Commerce Committee of the Minnesota Senate met for a rare out of session hearing. The topic was ‘regulation of financial institutions in Minnesota.” The hearing was called in response to a few high profile bank failures that have occurred in several of our Minnesota communities this past summer. Like so many banks across the country, Minnesota small banks made several big bets on real estate and according to the Federal Reserve, Minnesota ranks fifth nationally in the number of banks with excessive levels of bad loans. Should we expect more banks to fail? Is there a problem?
Nationally, in 2006, there were zero bank failures and 50 problem banks in this country. In 2009, there were 98 bank failures and 416 problem banks as of June of this year (FDIC). There are several federal and state agencies that supervise the nation’s 8195 banks. Banks are regulated by the FDIC and the Federal Government, while the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce regulates 320 of the 426 Minnesota Banks.
James LaPierre, Regional Director of the FDIC, said the current banking crisis has some similarities to the banking crisis of the late 1980’s when the farm belt was hit particularly hard due to plunging land and commodity prices. “The Fed is usually pretty good at taking away the punch bowl, just as the party is getting good.” But it didn’t happen this time.
Testimony from banks and credit unions say we have enough examiners and we have enough regulation in place. They argued that community bank and credit union regulators and examinations were not the problem. They point to the lack of regulation and oversight on other providers, such as brokers, appraisers, rating agencies, investment firms and the unregulated products like sub-prime mortgages and their derivatives. Others testified that local banks are not the problem. Foreclosures in this state typically have connections to large national lenders with little or no connections to their communities.
The Minnesota Senate will continue to take a close look at the health of the financial institutions in Minnesota. Bank customers need to trust the banks and the loans they provide are secure to move our economy forward. Banks and credit unions and customers need that confidence.

Long Term Budget still needs Fix

By | Economy, Education, Health Care | No Comments

I was reading a letter to the editor a few weeks ago from a reader who was surprised to see the world had not ended as a result of Governor Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment solution to fix the budget deficit for the FY 2010-11 biennium. The writer cited a lack of crying and gnashing of teeth as proof that the Governor’s unprecedented actions were justified in these tough economic times. The truth is, many schools have had some difficulty securing short term loans to make ends meet due to delayed payments and many of the unallotment plans, such as general assistance medical care and higher education, will not go into effect until 2010. In addition, the unallotment solution did nothing to resolve the more looming problems of the future. The decision to rely heavily on one-time measures to fix the current deficit will have long term implications as Minnesota is facing persistent budget deficits.
According to the Minnesota Budget Project (July 2009) the deficit could increase substantially, depending on a number of factors:
• If delayed payments to school districts are repaid (and they should be), the deficit would increase by up to $1.8 billion.
• If General Assistance Medical Care is restored, a program for very low-income adults without children, the deficit would increase by up to $890 million.
• If the impact of inflation is taken into account, the deficit would increase by $1.4 billion.
• If the economy does not improve as was forecasted this past February, the deficit would increase by an unknown amount.
When the state’s next economic forecast is released – likely in early December, Minnesota could face another huge budget deficit for 2012-13 and may see additional deficit open up for the current biennium. Without additional federal stimulus funds, which lessened the impact of the current deficit, we face fewer resources to solve future deficits. We as lawmakers must solve the budget crisis with an eye to the future considering all budget-balancing solutions.