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House Bill 12 is a good example of how the Legislature should work. It was passed on final votes of 79-21 in the House and 41-9 in the Senate. About two-thirds of Republicans and nearly all Democrats came together to support this legislation which helps Montanans throughout the state who count on us for help. Yet the governor vetoed it on the basis that it might be too difficult to implement. This veto should be overturned.

Statewide impact

House Bill 12 includes one-time funding for businesses and nonprofits across the state who serve some of the most vulnerable Montanans:

 Nursing homes and assisted living facilities that care for our most frail elderly

 Home care agencies that serve the elderly and physically disabled in their homes

 Agencies that provide meals on wheels and other services to the elderly

 Group homes, sheltered workshops and supported employment/supported living programs that serve people with developmental disabilities;

 Independent living centers that serve those with physical disabilities

 Mental health centers and others who serve children and adults with mental illnesses

 Residential treatment centers that serve abused and emotionally fragile children

 Those who provide foster care to children in crisis.

Restore Schweitzer’s cutback

At the heart of this bill is the fact that the state pays for these services today at rates that are at about the same as in July 2008. Providers have struggled as their costs have increased for everything from food and medical supplies to utilities and health insurance — while rates paid to them have been frozen and cut. Workers who provide health care to others struggle to have health insurance and services for themselves and their families because of frozen and stagnant wages.

The interim committee and Legislature recognized that it was important to provide relief and to provide it soon. Thus, they supported the one-time funding to be paid during the current fiscal year. The Legislature previously appropriated this money to providers but it was withheld by Gov. Brian Schweitzer during the economic downturn. The intent of the interim committee and Legislature was simply to spend these funds for the purposes originally intended, now that the state’s economic picture has improved.

HB12 provides much-needed relief to human services providers throughout the state and helps assure we can maintain high quality services. We will be able to use these funds to play catch up — to repair that roof, replace equipment and vehicles that have seen better days and do other maintenance that has been deferred for lack of funds, or to give staff bonuses. It will be used where it is needed most.

This legislation is good for human services providers, good for workers who go to work every day to give their best to others, and good for those we serve.

Legislators of both parties voted for HB12 over and over during the session. The circumstances necessitating this bill have not changed since the Legislature adjourned. But now people from all over the state who contacted legislators and told their stories of why this funding is needed and who were so hopeful that help was on the way are discouraged and disappointed and worry that in the end politics will triumph over people.

The good people who already voted for this legislation need to vote for it one more time to override this veto so this money can get out into the communities where it belongs and where it can do so much good.

Rose M. Hughes is executive director of the Montana Health Care Association in Helena.

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