House committee debates cuts to Health and Human Services

Health care and education are the two largest expenditures in the state of Montana’s budget.

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – Montana Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan cautioned lawmakers Wednesday about what decreasing funding to her department might mean for Montanans.

“The budget will dramatically impair the services we provide to seniors, and those with disabilities in Montana, and compromise our ability to serve Montana’s most vulnerable community members,” she told members of the House Appropriations Committee during a hearing on House Bill 2, the main budget bill.

The governor’s office said the Legislature’s current budget proposes about $93 million less than its proposal for the agency.

Kerry Dattilo is the CEO of Quality Life Concepts, which works with people with special needs, and gets some of its funding from the department. She said there’s a workforce crisis when it comes to care providers.

“Our entry wage is the same as the local Burger King. Mermaids at the Sip ‘n Dip make 25 cents more an hour than our direct care staff,” Datillo said.

Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, who chairs the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, says health care and education are the two biggest expenditures in the state budget.

Rob Cook

“And any effort to get to a balanced budget that provides structural balance at the end of 2019 logically would lead one to think that you have to look to where the money is spent to make the necessary budget adjustments,” he said.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said it’s important to differentiate between cuts and less of an increase of funding.

Nancy Ballance

“And while it might be somewhat entertaining to listen to you speak about things that are scaring our seniors and scaring our disabled people, that is not what this department has done, and that is not what we intend to do,” she said.

The committee will vote on House Bill 2 Thursday and Friday.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.