This is a guest post by Ethan Roberts of the JCRC
As Minnesota enters the sixth day of what the Star Tribune is already referring to as a “historic government shutdown,” it is important to recall that though this shutdown will be an inconvenience for most Minnesotans, it will more gravely be a serious economic hardship for over 20,000 laid off state government employees, a severe strain on the already strapped budgets of Minnesota nonprofits, a drag on Minnesota’s still weak economy, and an absolute disaster for thousands of vulnerable Minnesotans who depend upon government funded services. For our part, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) through the Twin Cities Jewish Community Government Affairs Program (Government Affairs Program), has continued to advocate on behalf of the Jewish community’s government funded social service providers, though the forum has now moved from the executive and legislative branches of government to the judicial. In addition, we have worked tirelessly to prepare our key community stakeholders and educate the broader public about what the government shutdown will mean for them. At this point in the government shutdown, our early assessment is that for the Jewish community’s social services providers at least, the government shutdown could have been a lot worse and that the greater danger lies in the likely budget cuts which we expect will be included once a deal is eventually settled upon and the shutdown comes to an end.
As indicated above, during the government shutdown we have continued to advocate on behalf of the Jewish community social service providers which receive government funding. For example, on the first day of the government shutdown I had the honor to accompany Judy Halper and Cindy Uran from Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) to a hearing before Special Master Kathleen Blatz to determine which services should be funded during the government shutdown. At this hearing, we argued that JFCS’ “welfare to work” Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) vocational services were within the scope of “critical core functions of government” included within Judge Kathleen Gearin’s June 29, 2011 Order. Though the Dayton administration was initially of the view that employment service providers such as JFCS should not be funded during the government shutdown, I believe we made a very persuasive case at the hearing (to view our presentation before Special Master Blatz, please click on this link and fast forward to 4:29:25.) On Tuesday, we learned that Governor Mark Dayton’s attorneys had filed a set of revised recommendations with the Special Master and the Dayton administration now agrees that JFCS’ TANF vocational services, along with JFCS’ Basic Sliding Fee Childcare Services, should be funded during the government shutdown. Ultimately, Judge Gearin will decide which services will receive their funding during the government shutdown, but the fact that Attorney General Lori Swanson and Governor Dayton both agree that these critical JFCS services should continue and the absence of any formal opposition is an encouraging sign for JFCS and their vulnerable clients. Notably, Judge Gearin already ruled on June 29th that Medicaid payments, which constitute the majority of government funds received by the Jewish community – almost exclusively in the form of long term care payments for our nursing homes and the home and community based services for poor seniors provided by Sholom, JFCS, Jewish Family Service of St. Paul and the Jewish Community Center of the Greater St. Paul Area – should continue during the government shutdown. Accordingly, there is good reason to be hopeful that the Jewish community’s social services providers will be less impacted than originally feared by the government shutdown, though as indicated above we continue to be concerned about the inevitable cuts which will come with any negotiated agreement.
At this point in the government shutdown, Governor Dayton and his Democratic legislative allies are still very far apart from the legislative Republican majorities. While many others have commented on the myriad reasons behind the inability of the Governor and the legislature to come to an agreement before the June 30th deadline, my sense is that given Minnesota’s relatively large $5.1 billion deficit and the fact that the people of Minnesota elected both a very liberal Governor and a very conservative legislative majority last November, this clash may have been inevitable. For those who were in attendance at the JCRC/Sabes Jewish Community Center’s June 22nd bipartisan legislative panel discussion on the budget impasse and impending government shutdown, the divide between the parties was quite evident as were the potential seeds for a possible budget compromise. The JCRC is grateful that over 150 people from within and outside the Jewish community attended our forum and to TPT’s Mary Lahammer for serving as our moderator. For those who were unable to be there to see Republicans Senator Warren Limmer and Representative Doug Wardlow, and Democrats Senator Scott Dibble and Representative Ryan Winkler debate, the full program is available on the Uptake. We were also very pleased that Mary Lahammer used several excerpts from our forum in the first segment of the June 24th edition of Almanac, in which particular emphasis is placed on what the contours of a final budget compromise could look like.
As this historic government shutdown continues, the Government Affairs Program will continue to advocate for the Jewish community and the vulnerable Minnesotans from all backgrounds served by our social service providers. We also promise to update members of the community and the greater public about how this shutdown will impact their lives and those of their neighbors and fellow Minnesotans.
Ethan Roberts, J.D. is the Director of the Twin Cities Jewish Community Government Affairs Program at the JCRC. The Government Affairs Program, which is charged with protecting approximately $22 million in annual federal, state and local government funding for the Jewish community’s social service providers and day schools is generously funded by the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, the United Jewish Fund and Council of St. Paul, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.