HELENA – About 100 people gathered on the South Lawn of the Montana State Capitol Monday to deliver a message for state lawmakers – proposed cuts to the state public health budget could be disastrous for older Montanans, those with disabilities and the providers that care for them.

Organizations led by a group of independent living centers held a “People Matter” rally. Travis Hoffman, the advocacy coordinator for Summit Independent Living in Missoula, said the event was intended to “put a face on” the proposed cuts.

Those in attendance chanted slogans like “Don’t roll back our rights!” Many were either employees or clients of private care providers that are reimbursed by the state for services covered by Medicaid. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has proposed cutting state payments to those providers by 3.47 percent. The plan is a response to a law passed during the 2017 legislative session, which requires state spending cuts to address lower-than-expected tax revenues.

In addition to those cuts, Gov. Steve Bullock’s office has asked state agencies, including DPHHS, to outline 10 percent cuts in their overall budget, after the budget picture became even worse.

Story continues below

Hoffman said those reductions would force providers to reduce their services and possibly cut back on staffing.

“There’s a severe caregiver shortage, and people are going without services already,” he said. “It’s just going to make that whole situation ten times worse.”

Providers say they understand the severe budget pressures that the state is facing, but that leaders need to find another way to save money.

Hoffman argued these cuts will actually cost the state more over the long run, by forcing people to get more expensive care at places like nursing homes or the state hospital.

“If the Governor or the Legislature think that community-based services are expensive, wait until they get the bill from a mass exodus of people going to institutionalized services,” he said.

Those who attended the rally also said they believe the people most affected by the cuts didn’t have enough input before the decisions were made.

“We’re here to show that we do have a voice – that we do matter – and they need to start realizing that,” Hoffman said.