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Children and families budget bill gets go-ahead from House panel

Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chair and sponsor of HF2476, during the April 16 meeting of the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee. (House Photography file photo)
Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chair and sponsor of HF2476, during the April 16 meeting of the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee. (House Photography file photo)

The House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee approved its comprehensive supplemental budget bill Thursday that includes funding to fix an antiquated system used to track and manage child welfare case work, and money for a summer program to feed families.

Replaced by a delete-all amendment, HF2476 was further amended during a morning meeting that Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) said will be the committee’s last this session. After the split-voice vote, the bill now heads to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The proposal would appropriate $34.37 million from the General Fund in the 2024-25 biennium in supplemental funding for early childhood programs. It would also modify some child welfare and child care licensing programs and make other technical changes to existing laws.

Pinto, the bill’s sponsor, said it builds on historic investments the state made last year in child care, along with fighting food insecurity and homelessness.

“We’re trying to meet needs and doing so in a balanced, thoughtful and smart way,” he said. “… It's been really tough to balance out the approaches to do so but I think we’ve done so in the most responsible and effective way we can.”

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

One of the bill’s largest appropriations would be $9 million to continue work to fix the outdated Social Services Information System used by more than 6,000 workers around the state each day to track and manage child welfare case work. The committee has had repeated discussions about the system this session with bipartisan agreement that an overhaul is needed.

House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee 4/18/24

Rep. Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have moved funding in the bill from the new Department of Children, Youth and Families to provide another $14 million for the SSIS system’s modernization.

“We make things a priority here by how we spend the funding,” Nelson said. “We’ve heard a lot this year that SSIS is something that desperately needs to be fixed.”

Pinto said it will probably take $40 million to $50 million in state funding, paired with a match of federal funds, to complete that project and he will continue work to get the money needed. But he opposes the amendment because he said taking money from the new agency as it is being formed would put it at a disadvantage even as the funding shift wouldn’t accomplish its goal either.

Republicans offered two other amendments; both were also unsuccessful. One would have modified the Parent Aware rating system while the other would have required additional considerations in a study of the needs of LGBTQIA+ youth who are experiencing homelessness.

That came from Rep. Walter Hudson (R-Albertville) who later summed up Republican objections to the bill in whole saying it does nothing to make child care more affordable or address fraud, instead it prioritizes an expansion of government at the expense of “essential tools” needed by state and county workers to do their jobs effectively. He said the bill reflects the structural financial deficits that will face Minnesota in the years to come.

“When you run out of money you kind of have to toss your hands up,” Hudson said. “That’s what I see this bill doing.”

But Rep. Nathan Coulter (DFL-Bloomington) said the bill continues the work needed to help young children during perhaps the most crucial stage of their development and that investments made now ensure a better future for everyone in the state.

“I’m really proud of this bill and the work we’ve done in this committee over the last two years.”

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