Working to make sure all children in Minnesota “get off to a great start” has been an often-repeated theme this session by DFL leaders, and the omnibus children and families finance bill, passed by the House 70-60 Thursday, is a significant result of those efforts.
It would appropriate $875 million in new General Fund spending to the Department of Human Services in the next two fiscal years to help make child care more accessible and affordable, along with helping those who provide child care and tackling issues such as hunger, homelessness, child safety, economic insecurity and system reforms, among others.
“This is a bill that fills in those pieces that gets families off to a great start,” Pinto said.
The budget target for the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee, which Pinto chairs, had called for $1.17 billion in new General Fund spending during the upcoming biennium. And the bill hit that mark when it was approved by the committee March 30, with $875 million allocated for health and human services spending, and $300 million for early education.
However, the early education portion of the bill was removed by the House Ways and Means Committee at its April 13 hearing and travelled separately as HF2292, which was also passed by the House Thursday.
During a media availability before debate began, Pinto said the two bills, which focus on learning and development in a child’s earliest years, are the “pieces that go around” the K-12 omnibus education finance bill, HF2497, passed by the House Thursday as well.
Among the largest proposed new appropriations for the 2024-25 biennium are:
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Another notable provision would be the creation of a new state agency. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families would combine core child, youth and family support programs to better serve Minnesota’s children.
The Human Services, Education, Health and Public Safety departments would be required to transfer responsibilities that would fall under the jurisdiction of the new department, along with relevant staff and unexpended appropriations.
Rep. Walter Hudson (R-Albertville), who serves on the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee, said the bill would not achieve its goals.
“The issue here is not whether we’re going to take care of our children here in the state of Minnesota but whether or not the methods that are being prescribed are actually going to have that effect,” Hudson said at morning press briefing.
He said the bill would create more bureaucracy rather than solve problems.
“The new Department of Children, Youth and Families is simply a plan to rearrange the deck chairs on a ship that’s sailing in the wrong direction,” Hudson said, adding that the Republican alternative is to increase the purchasing power of parents, and their choices, by additional funding for early learning scholarships.
But Pinto said the bill establishes a system for the future, modernizing it to ensure it can best serve families and the new department would put its central focus on children.
“When we put kids at the center, we know that we all benefit,” he said.
An amendment offered by Hudson, that would have increased funding for the scholarships by redirecting $384 million from other areas funded in the bill, was not adopted. Hudson said the scholarships offer parents more flexibility and work better than other programs.
Other amendments that would have changed the requirements for assistance to child care centers and started a pilot program for cash stipend payments to families of the 148th Fighter Wing in St. Louis County experiencing food insecurity, also failed.