Much like the Lagavulin 16 Year Single Malt Scotch ice cream we ended the episode gorging ourselves on, this edition of the Saturday Six Pack was complex and layered… One minute it was fun and light, and the next it was deadly serious. In just two hours time, we somehow managed to have interesting conversations about mental health funding, racist mascots, and ginger beer floats. And, as if that weren’t enough, there was a song about a local prostitute, and an unexpected visit from some local, rock ‘n roll newlyweds… Oh, and there was a call from an author who was taking a break from writing smut to tune into the in-studio ice cream party that this episode had become. There were milkshakes and magic shells. I also coined the phrase “mirral,” for a mural made of mirrors.
[If you would like to listen to episode twenty-three of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]
The show started on a serious note. County Commissioner Yousef Rabhi, Greg Pratt of MISSION (Michigan Itinerant Shelter System, Interdependent Out of Necessity), and AFSCME Local 3052 President Nancy Heine talked with me about looming cuts to Washtenaw County’s Community Support and Treatment Services (CSTS) division – cuts that will likely leave close to 90 of the Country’s 350 mental health care workers without jobs, and hundreds of our most vulnerable neighbors more at risk.
Commissioner Rabhi, who had to join us over the phone, as he was out of town on the day of the show, laid the groundwork for our conversation. He explained how it had come to pass that CSTS had come to be under the purview of the County, and the chain of events that had led to where we are today, staring at a multi-million dollar deficit and considering the elimination of not only close to 100 workers, but also a complete program that serves the disabled and mentally ill. [The program being targeted for elimination is the Vocational Services program.] In large part, our discussion centered around a letter that both Rabhi and I had received earlier that morning from Commissioner Conan Smith concerning efforts to discover how it came to be that CSTS came to be so far in the red.
[above: Nancy Heine and Greg Pratt join me in listening to Commissioner Rabhi, who I believe was en-route to a wedding when he called in.]
Before getting to the letter from Conan Smith, I should note that conventional wisdom seems to be that these cuts, which everyone agrees are severe, were necessitated by tightening budgets at the State and Federal level. The Ann Arbor News, for instance, had reported a few days earlier that mental health services in Washtenaw County “(would) receive $2.5 million less in Medicaid funding than what was budgeted for the 2015 fiscal year and a decrease in $2.7 million from the State General Funds.” This was echoed by Deputy County Administrator Diane Heidt, who told me the following in an email. “The $4.7 million projected reduction that we are facing at this time,” she said, “is a direct result of cost cutting measures by the State, as well as reduced rates for the Healthy Michigan program.”
According to Smith’s letter, which you can read for yourself here, however, it’s possible that the State may not be at fault here… Here, with the permission of Commissioner Smith, is his letter.
“…the State has significantly increased funding to Washtenaw. Although Medicaid funds were apparently reduced by $2.5M, they were more than made up for by increases in general funds from the state. I’ve attached the appropriations history they provided. You’ll see a significant increase in total funding from FY13 to FY14. For FY15, the State appropriated a total of $74.8M, a $6.5M increase.
The WCHO (Washtenaw Community Health Organization) and CSTS are nonetheless reporting revenue declines (photo attached, FYI the fiscal years don’t seem to align so that’s probably confusing), including a $2.7M reduction in GF from the state. This kind of begs the question. ‘If the Legislature is sending us money but it’s not getting to the agency, where the funding is going?’ …We don’t know yet.
It could be that our new regional body – the “PIHP” (Prepaid Inpatient Health Plan) or “CMHPSM” (Community Mental Health Partnership of Southeastern Michigan) – may be taking a large administrative cut. Funding may be going directly to clients rather than to public bodies. Washtenaw may not be capturing its full take from the PIHP (e.g. we may not be collecting funds for eligible expense like HR management).”
Rabhi wasn’t willing to speculate as to whether or not this current crisis we find ourselves in could be the result of increased spending at the upper administrative level, but he did confirm that they are looking into it. He also made it clear that no CSTS employees would be terminated until he and the other County Commissioners had gotten to the bottom of it, determined that positions had to be eliminated, and were satisfied that plans were in place to meet the needs of Washtenaw citizens to currently depend upon programs being cut.
Here’s how Rabhi ends our call: “I’m troubled by the timeline we’ve been given on some of these cuts we have to make… We’re trying to get a handle on how the budgets work… To a lot of us, this is brand new… For me, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that our consumers (of mental health services) are the priority… We need to ensure that they’re safe, that they’re being protected, that they get the services that they need, and I’m willing to advocate at the state if the state is cutting, and at the region if the region is cutting. Whatever it is, we need to figure it out. These are people’s lives on the line.” Rabbi then went on to say that, if cuts do indeed have to be made, the people losing their jobs shouldn’t be the frontline staff, who are providing the services to clients directly.
Nancy Heine concurs with Rabhi, saying that all of this is relatively new to them as well. The first meeting the unions were included in, she says, took place just two weeks ago, on July 30. That, she said, is the first time she’d heard that jobs were going to be eliminated. At that time, I believe she said, she’d been told that 77 CSTS employees would be terminated. Since then, however, she says the number has climbed to 88… Here’s Heine peaking out from behind Greg Pratt’s beard to tell us how these cuts will ripple though Washtenaw County, as some of those union employees who are terminated will qualify for jobs in other departments given their seniority.
Heine says that she was told that unforeseen cuts at the State had led to the $4.8 million deficit, and that CSTS had no option but to cut these 88 jobs. She then went on to tell us what she’d heard about the jobs that were to be eliminated. She said that 13 administrative positions would be terminated, 8 within the Mental Illness program, 2 within the Developmental Disability program, 2 within the Youth and Family Program and 62 within the Vocational Services program, which is the entire program.
The vocation Services program, according to Pratt, is likely on the chopping block because it is the one non-medical program within CSTS, and, as such, its services are ones that cannot be easily reimbursed by Medicaid. Unfortunately, as a result of eliminating this program that trains and places disabled individuals in jobs, many will likely be more at risk. As Pratt explains it, the $200 or $300 a month earned by disabled individuals through the Vocational Services program, could be the difference between having a room and being homeless for some. [SSI and Housing Choice Vouchers, says Pratt, are not, on their own, enough to sustain stable housing for many.]
I should add that I tried to find a CSTS employee to join us on the show. Unfortunately, though, everyone I talked with was too scared to talk on the record, as they were afraid of retribution from those managers who would be making the decisions as to which employees would be losing their jobs. In fact, as soon as I started asking around for people to speak with, a message went out to all CSTS employees, informing them they weren’t allowed to speak with the press. Fortunately, Pratt, who interacts with many County employees in the course of his job duties working with our local homeless population, was able to give us some insight as to what CSTS employees are dealing with. They’re scared and miserable, he said. Not only are they afraid of losing their jobs, but they’re concerned about the clients who depend on them, and what might happen to them if these cuts come to fruition. Here’s Pratt urging listeners to get involved by calling their elected representatives.
Then, at the 48-minute mark, we played the most recent contribution from our friend in Kenya, Dr. Pete Larson. This week’s song, for those of you who refuse to listen, was about a recent state visit President Obama had made to Africa, which apparently disrupted Pete’s routine. [Pete will be on the Saturday Six Pack live, in person, on August 29, so be sure to tune in.]
And, at the 51-minute mark, we were joined in the studio by Michelle Lietz of EMU’s Native American Student Organization (NASO), who told us how it came to pass that, a few days ago, EMU administrators gave up their quest to reintroduce the controversial “Huron” logo. Lietz was joined in the studio by local historian Matt Siegfried, who shared the history of the Wendat people, who were incorrectly referred to as “Hurons” by early French fur traders. [Huron apparently means “bristly pig” in French.] Here Lietz is telling us what she and the other members of NASO plan to do now that they’ve successfully brought this campaign to a close.
According to Lietz, the decision to remove the logo from the school’s band uniforms seemed to come directly from EMU’s new Interim President Kim Schatzel, who, after hearing all of the arguments on both sides, said that, from her perspective, “the decision had been made of 20 years ago,” in 1991, when EMU first retired the Native American mascot.
[If you’d like to hear our first interview with Lietz, back when the fight between NASO and EMU was first coming to a head, you can find Episode 15 here.]
Then, at 1:11, I talked with four-string guitar player Craig Johnson about the path that brought him to Ypsi, by way of Ann Arbor, after leaving Cadillac, Michigan. [He left Cadillac in hopes of finding more venues to play music.] Craig also played three very lovely songs for us. Here he is preparing to entertain us.
I coined a number of phrases during this episode. One of them was “hypno-folk,” which I used to describe Craig’s music.
At some point during my interview with Craig, the door tot he studio swung open and the just-married duo Junglefowl came in. They’d apparently left their wedding reception, which was taking place down the street, to come by and say hello. Here they are, being all happy.
[Mark your calendars. Junglefowl will be back on the show September 19, to play for us live in the studio.]
And, at 1:36, Robb Hess, the man behind Go Ice Cream, came by to get us drunk on scotch ice cream, and tell us about his plans for expansion in downtown Ypsi. [If you want to help make it happen, you can contribute toward the cause here, and get lots of cool stuff in return.] We talked, among other things, about lube ice cream, limp handshakes, and just how difficult it is to find decent commercial property in Ypsilanti. Here’s Hess listening in as I talked on the phone with his significant other, Lara Zielin, about the book she’s presently writing, which is about an archivist gets turned-on after reading racy letters written by a long-dead industrialist. I believe, at the point this photo was taken, I was telling her either that archivists aren’t sexual beings, or that Henry Ford is thought by some to have killed a mistress on the grounds of Greenfield Village. Zielin, I’m sure, didn’t care to hear either. She’d just called in to let us know that our phone lines were working, as I’d kept saying, “Will someone please call in so we can see if our phones are working?”
Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Brian Robb for running the board and keeping the bills paid, and Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything that happens. [All the photos above come courtesy of Kate.]
If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.
AND NOW, THANKS TO SCIENCE, YOU CAN LSTEN FOR YOURSELF:
[And, no, I have idea how Kate de Fuccio came to put Batgirl on the poster for this past week’s show, just days before the actress who portrayed her, Yvonne Craig, would die. I don’t know if it’s really awesome, or really creepy.]