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Disabled In Small Towns Face Big Hit From State Budget Cuts

State budgets.

Private contractors who take care of Montanans with developmental disabilities are losing state contracts due to Montana’s budget woes. This means many case managers across the state are losing their jobs, and small town service providers are grappling with how to provide care on a reduced budget.

Michelle Eliason is executive director of Milk River, Inc. Her non-profit organization runs group homes and a work center for 28 clients with developmental disabilities in Glasgow. She says the town is losing their two privately contracted case managers due to the budget cuts. 

For someone with developmental disabilities, losing a case manager is losing an advocate.

"They lose, you know, just one more person that cares. That’s checking in on them. That’s looking out for their well-being," Eliason said.

The state Department of Health and Human Services is going to try to continue that work by providing regionally based case managers on its staff. But Eliason says the state hasn’t given many details beyond that. 

“I don’t know how it… I haven’t seen anything come out of how they are exactly gonna work it once the case managers are gone,” she said.

Eliason says her organization will also lose additional funding because the state Health Department is reducing how much it pays Medicaid providers by about three percent. 

While Milk River won’t stop serving clients, Eliason says the reduction makes it even harder for them to pay caregivers a decent wage.

"We are already short-staffed," she said. "This is already a position that’s hard to fill because of the job that they do, and they already get a low wage, so it’s tough to compete with McDonald's, where they make $12 to $15 an hour, where we only can give $11."

Eliason says that means they’re 10 employees short of where they should be.

The state’s funding cuts go into effect March 31st.

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