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Money for worker incentives, IT in supplemental DHS budget request

The Department of Human Services’ supplemental budget request is centered around four key areas: expanding economic opportunities, supporting children and families, protecting health and safety, and issues around housing and homelessness.

“The governor’s supplemental budget includes proposals to address the challenges we face today while investing in the future to ensure we emerge from this time of crisis stronger than ever before,” said Commissioner Jodi Harpstead.  

Shared with the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz’s supplemental budget request is $484.6 million for the 2022-23 biennium and $1.74 billion for fiscal years 2024-25.

Among the proposals is $115 million for a caring professions workforce program to establish incentives to work in jobs such as a personal care or nursing assistant. Department officials described a severe worker shortage in those areas to the committee earlier this week.

The program must ensure money goes to workers, said Budget Director Elyse Bailey, yet be flexible enough to be effective for employers. For example, money could be used for cash bonuses, education credits or child care subsidies.

Another proposal aims to address deep poverty by increasing general assistance benefits from $203 per month to $344 and tie future increases to inflation. The benefit, which serves about 24,000 per month, was set at $203 in 1986.

The supplemental budget also includes $77.5 million for an integrated IT system, building on work begun five years ago. This includes expanding the MNbenefits portal, which has proved successful in lowering application time from 60 minutes to 12 minutes, Harpstead said.

“I recognize this is, and will be thought of as, a big IT proposal,” Harpstead said. “We’re also thinking that a year of surplus is a good year to make big IT investments.”

Other proposals include:

  • increasing children’s inpatient and psychiatric residential treatment facility beds;
  • creating an additional first episode psychosis provider;
  • expanding mobile crisis programs, which are short-term intensive mental health services provided outside a clinic setting;
  • funding for new psychiatric residential treatment facilities; and
  • funding to support transitions to stable housing, including money for 100 AmeriCorps members. 

Department officials estimate the need for more than 200 full-time positions to implement the plans; the department has 7,500 currently.

There are greater needs, especially in behavioral health and children’s behavioral health, said Rep. Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth), the committee chair.

“I appreciate that DHS is trying to respond and staff up to meet those needs,” she said. “And to accomplish and implement the things we passed last year.”

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