ST. PAUL -- Senior volunteers could keep their stipends but fewer parents would get help with child care costs under a tweaking of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan for human services programs that House leaders described Friday.
The roughly $7 billion plan, like Pawlenty's, would keep increases over the next two years to about 8 percent, holding back cost hikes that were forecast to otherwise increase 20 percent because of more demand for the programs and double-digit health care inflation.
Overall, the GOP-controlled House adds another $70 million to the plan, mostly from gambling revenues by turning the Canterbury Park race track into a full-fledged casino. The plan also finds an extra $100 million by further restricting subsidies for child care and by limiting what drugs it will pay for under Medicaid.
Minh Ta, public policy director for the Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota, called the plan extreme. "The priorities here are not for working parents or kids," he said. "Even the governor's proposal isn't this extreme."
The House plan spends the extra money by restoring stipends for people who participate in senior volunteer programs, including the Foster Grandparents program and Senior Nutrition.
The money would also restore nearly all of the Republican governor's proposed cuts in nursing home rates, and part of the cuts in home care programs and payment rates for hospitals and pharmacies.
Pawlenty's plans to toughen welfare programs are mostly unchanged under the House plan. House Republicans, for example, would ban people from using food support money to purchase what administrators define as "junk" food. It would also demand that parents strictly follow work plans to stay on welfare, and that families that have additional children while on welfare would not be given any additional money.
The House would also keep Pawlenty's plan to spend less on health programs by combining programs now meant for the poor and others meant for low-income working people. In all, the state predicts it would result in 68,000 fewer people receiving state-sponsored health insurance by the end of Pawlenty's term.
Pawlenty has defended his plan to cut stipends for senior volunteer programs, saying if they're truly volunteers, they shouldn't need compensation.
But House Speaker Steve Sviggum said seniors effectively lobbied lawmakers around the state to reverse the $5 million in cuts.
"They did a good job of making their case, and we responded," he said.
The plan must still pass the House and be paired with the DFL-controlled Senate's version. Though complete details aren't yet available, the Senate DFL plan would include far smaller cutbacks, in part because the Senate has proposed a tobacco tax increase and an increase on individuals who earn more than $136,000 per year.
Patrick Howe may be reached at phowe(at)ap.org
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