The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 20, 2011

Blue Earth County got head start on cuts in human services

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — The state’s human services cuts were announced all at once during the early morning hours Wednesday, but in Blue Earth County they’ve been felt by bits and pieces during the past year or more.  

For example, two of the county’s five therapists left over the past few years and haven’t been replaced. The county doesn’t turn away clients who require services — it’s not allowed to — but neither can it do more work with fewer bodies.

Prevention work, including small-group, couples and family therapy, was the first to go. The emphasis is now on the severely mentally ill, many or most of whom cannot find help elsewhere.

These cuts were not ordered by the state, but the county didn’t want to wait for them to come and be forced to do layoffs. Instead, the county has incentivized retirement for the past two years and not rehired many who’ve left, leaving the cuts to be felt one fewer employee at a time, a strategy called attrition.

The county is down the equivalent of 32.5 employees from the 2010 budget to the 2011 budget.

By initial counts, the state’s human services budget includes cuts for Blue Earth County of about $438,000 in 2011. Unlike in other areas like local government aid, these are real year-to-year cuts, not reductions in projected spending.

In August 2009, there were 1.75 full-time employees who worked at the county clubhouse, a social and therapy group for the mentally ill. Now, about the equivalent of .6 employees works there.

Because of staff reductions like this, Blue Earth County expects to weather this year’s budget decrease well, County Administrator Bob Meyer said.

About half of the human services cuts targeted mental illness and chemical dependency services. About a third came from a block grant mostly dedicated to services for children. The final cut, worth $76,000, was to the Minnesota Family Investment Program, a grant that funds employment and job training, emergency assistance and eligibility for the program.

Counties were tallying their budget reductions Wednesday and found themselves in a similar position to cities as far as county program aid (the county version of local government aid). Counties will get the same amount of aid in 2011 as they received in 2010.

In Blue Earth County, that’s $216,000 less than was promised, in Nicollet County it’s about $300,000 less, and in Waseca County only $6,000. Waseca County is losing about $200,000 in a different aid, though, called the market value homestead credit.