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House human services committee approves wide-ranging omnibus package

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

Addressing deep poverty, homelessness, mental health issues, community living and, especially, workforce shortages in caring professions are part of a wide-ranging omnibus bill approved by a House panel Friday.

Provisions emphasize efforts to raise pay, offer incentives or reduce barriers to entry into fields such as health care, child care and elderly care.  

“When we invest in people, we all do better,” said Rep. Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth), the sponsor of HF4579.

House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee 4/8/22 - Part 1

The House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee approved its omnibus bill, as amended, on an 11-8 party-line vote and referred it to the House Ways and Means Committee. It is expected to be integrated into a larger health and human services package, which would include $700 million in additional funding this biennium and $1.2 billion in the next.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

A chief component of the bill is addressing a severe workforce shortage with tools such as tuition forgiveness, incentive pay, workforce development grants and increased reimbursement rates on wages paid to personal care assistants.

It would create a Direct Care Service Corps pilot project, allow personal care assistants to be paid to drive their clients and lift a 40-hour limit on paid family caregivers.

Other bill provisions would:

  • increase general assistance for single adults for the first time in nearly 40 years;
  • establish a Disability Services Task Force and Pilot Program to help improve access to resources;  
  • increase eligibility for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program to 200% of the federal poverty level;
  • help plan to implement a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, many of whom are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid;
  • establish a state fund to reimburse counties so parents won’t be billed for a child’s stay in detention;
  • plan a system so young adults who had been living in foster care might have some financial support through a Social Security benefit trust fund;
  • address a benefits cliff that prevents some working parents from fully entering the workforce;
  • add children’s mobile crises services; and
  • establish a Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board.

Members disagreed on funding targeted toward nursing homes, with some anticipating differences with the Senate on using some of the state’s budget surplus.

Schultz successfully offered an amendment that would remove language changing disability waiver rates, which have long-term impacts on the state budget.

The amendment reconciles language in the spreadsheet, said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), who chairs the House Health Finance and Policy Committee. She said it continues to be a work in progress.

House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee 4/8/22 - Part 2

“So far, we have not been given the resources to meet all the needs,” she said. “We’ll keep trying to work out this really complicated puzzle.”

Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have sent more money to long-term care facilities, citing about 25 that have closed since 2019. 

“Our nursing homes are at the verge of collapse,” she said. “We are in danger of entire counties going without a nursing home.”

Schultz noted money in the current omnibus bill that could be accessed by nursing homes: about $171 million in federal funding and $41 million in small-business association loans going directly to nursing homes. She recognized most nursing homes offer high-quality care but expressed concerns about studies indicating nursing homes being run as investment opportunities to the detriment of staff and residents.  

The companion, SF4165, is sponsored by Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) and awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

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