Legislative Update October 2012 by Capitol Services
Prison Food Service Privatization Plans Delayed
Plans to consider moving the state’s prison food service into the private sector will be delayed for half a year. As MAGE members may recall, the Fiscal Year 2013 budget required the Department of Corrections (DOC) to put out a Request for Proposal on the matter by August 7. Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget, stated that the original due date was pushed back to September 20th because bidders asked for additional time to visit and review the prison sites. Due to this bump, the implementation date has been moved back six months from January 2013 until July 2013, and the whole process now waits in the joint evaluation committee phase.
Senator John Proos, chair of the Senate DOC Appropriations Subcommittee, and Representative Joe Haveman, chair of the Corrections Appropriations Subcommittee, are both awaiting the bids from private companies for prison food and other services. In the current fiscal year, $59.7 million, (395 full time equivalent jobs)was appropriated for prison food service administration, with meals coming from Michigan products and costing an average of $2.25 per meal. Senator Proos has been quoted as saying up to $10 million could be saved annually. While Rep. Haveman is interested in the potential for savings, he also wants to keep the prison food services from Michigan products and is concerned that it would be difficult to lower costs much below $2.25 without using packaged, non-local food sources.
Aramark Correctional Services and Trinity Services Group have both made proposals to earn the contract, but both have track records in other states that have led to many questions. In Kentucky, Aramark raised costs by an estimated 3% per year from 2004-2010 while serving as their prison food service provider, according to Kentucky’s Auditor of Public Accounts. Both groups were cited as raising food costs while serving in the state of Florida, where Aramark was reported to have increased or kept rates the same while prisoner counts and food quality declined, according to that state’s Office of the Inspector General in 2007. The company’s contractual relationship with Florida ended in 2009.
MAGE continues to keep a close watch on this and other efforts to move efficiently operated state services into the hands of private contractors. Members are urged to continue to urge their state legislators to be wary of offers that may appear too good to be true. Sometimes that’s because they are NOT!
Calhoun County Private Child Support Collection Pilot Program
At the October 16, 2012 Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing for the Human Services Department, the pilot program for collecting delinquent child support by using a private entity was discussed. From November 2009 until March 2011, Calhoun County partnered with GC Services to implement the pilot program. About 20% of Michigan child support cases are in default, which results from 6 straight months of missed payments. Speaking for GC Services, Bob Nieman stated that the goal of the program was to achieve a cost effective way to recover cases that were not being paid. The cost of the using GC Services was 20 cents on the dollar, whereas the state costs were only 14 cents on the dollar. GC Services claimed to be able to create a program that would not only reduce cost to the state, but also turn a profit after receiving all federal TANF matching dollars.
Over the length of the pilot, Calhoun County did see an increase in the amount of recovered delinquent cases, stated Michael Adrian of DHS. However, the total amount of recovered amounts over what the county had been able to do on their own was only $17,000 over the 26 month period—not much of a benefit for the added cost for the county. Helen Miles and Jeff Harbaugh of Calhoun County Friends of the Court stated that they believed the best way to increase the return on defaulted cases would be to increase the investment in staffing current public county recovery bodies.
Current Michigan policies bring in $6 for every $1 spent, which is one of the best returns on investment in the nation. Michigan is 8th lowest in the nation for investment in staffing, and lags far behind even many neighboring states in funding for staffing. Michigan averages 440 cases per worker, while Pennsylvania has 220 cases per worker and Ohio has only 152 cases per worker. Both of those states have invested more in their staffing, and have seen better results on returns than Michigan has seen. Adrian, Miles, and Harbaugh concluded with the information from the pilot that a more solid investment would be to increase funding for current public policies and staffing instead of bringing in a private body.
Court of Appeals: Disability Rulings Are Independent
The Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the Delta Circuit Court in a matter of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) denying disability benefits to a long-time state employee. Larry Wescott applied for disability benefits after he began experiencing blurry vision which he claimed would hinder his driving and work. He was denied by the Commission after an ophthalmologist found Wescott could “easily” continue to work. Wescott appealed the decision in the Delta Circuit Court, which decided for Wescott after SERS and SSA both ruled Wescott disabled during the appeal.
The case was then appealed by the Commission, where Judge William Murphy, writing for a unanimous court including Judges David Sawyer and Joel Hoekstra, found that forcing the Commission to consider other agencies – however similar – in their decisions would “improperly encroach on the Commission’s constitutional powers.” This ruling was based on the court not finding any authority that bound the Commission to any other authorities’ findings. Precedent is now established that authorities are independent with individual standards with regards to disability rulings.
No Hearing on Minimum Staffing Legislation…Yet!
HB 5426 (Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren), the MAGE-backed legislation that affects the nurse to patient ratio in hospitals, has not yet been taken up by the House Health Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Gail Haines (R-Lake Angelus). The bill specifically includes all state hospitals and facilities. Members who live in the chair’s district are encouraged to write the committee chair and ask for there to be a hearing on this legislation, which is important for patient safety as well as to avoid staff turn-over in hospitals, due to burn out. Members are also encouraged to write their own state representatives, all of whom can be contacted at PO Box 30014, Lansing, MI 48909.
MAGE hopes that when the legislature returns, HB 5426 will see action!
State Employees Generously Provide $1M in Donations
The State Employees Charitable Campaign announced that this year's campaign is projected to raise $1 million in donations. Since 1987, State of Michigan employees have given over $45 million to more than 1,200 charities.
Capitol Services October 24, 2012