GOP controlled Legislature offers opportunities and challenges

| November 17, 2010 | 2 Comments

The upcoming state legislative session presents “a mixed bag” for the concerns of Min­nesota’s Catholic bishops, said Father David McCau­ley, interim director of the Min­ne­sota Catholic Conference, the bishops’ public policy voice.

With concerns about the state’s budget deficit, Father Mc­Cau­ley said it is questionable whether any other issue can even get a hearing in the next session, which will feature a House and Senate with Republican majorities. The close governor’s race between DFL?candidate Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer appears headed to a recount before a winner is named.

“I’m assuming the referendum [on defining marriage as a permanent union of one man and one woman] will be easier to pass if we can get it a hearing,” he said. If it would pass, he added, the governor, by law, cannot veto a bill calling for a referendum.

“But, in [other] social concerns areas, I think it’s go­ing to be real tough,” Father McCauley said.

What about public welfare?

Paul Martodam, CEO of Catholic Chari­ties of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Min­nea­polis, said he ex­pects Catholic Charities leaders to spend a lot of time at the Minnesota State Capitol during the upcoming legislative session.

“There’s been a lot of talk about cutting budgets during the campaigns, but very few specifics,” said Martodam. “When you get down to what’s in the budget, education and health care are the two big components of the state budget. Our concern is the small amount that is left over for our public welfare programs.”

For a number of years, Catholic Charities was able to meet the needs of all the people who came to its doors for help. But, that is not a given.

“The fact is we’re maxed out,” Martodam said. “The reality is that we see continuing growth in the number of unemployed people, and the number of people losing their jobs. . . . We see an increase in the levels of need every day in our programs.”

State and federal funding makes up about 43 percent of the total $37 million Catholic Chari­ties budget, he said. The rest of the budget in­cludes: charitable contributions, 33 percent; archdiocesan fund­s, 5 per­cent; United Way, 6 percent; program fees and rent, 10 percent; and investments, 3 percent.

“We’re seeing increased levels of giving, but nothing to come close to making up for the amounts that are at stake here,” he said.

The first concern is for the poorest and most vulnerable citizens: people who are homeless, those with disabilities and the frail elderly, he said.

Funding priorities

Martodam noted three funding priorities for Catholic Charities:

» Group residential housing, which serves people in homeless shelters and transitional facilities.

» General Assistance Medical Care. “The system that was set up in the last Legislature has been just a dramatic failure and needs to be fixed,” he said.

» Runaway and homeless youth. Catholic Charities provides most of the 40 beds available in the Twin Cities for runaway and homeless youth. It has been estimated that about 700 youth are homeless and on the street each night. “We make such a small dent now in the need, so, we’d be concerned about any cut to those services,” he added.

Martodam said he and other representatives from Catholic Char­ities will be spending more time educating new members of the Legislature about the important role of government, along with nonprofits and the business community, in addressing those issues.

“The reality is, the more of these services we eliminate, the greater the cost will be — in the long run — to society,” Martodam said. “We can cut a few dollars today, but it’s going to cost a lot more down the road.”

People will end up in jails, emergency rooms and long-term facilities that cost society a great deal more than the alternatives that are currently in place, he explained. Help­ing people understand the consequences “will take a great deal more of our time,” he said.

At the same time, Catholic Char­ities’ Office for Social Justice will be focusing more energy on engaging parishes to partner with Catholic Charities in providing services and helping parishes develop res­ponse programs.

“If we can provide some technical support or planning support, whatever it is that helps a parish to respond, we are delighted to do that,” Martodam said.

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