The Minnesota Senate tonight will approve a comprehensive health and human services budget that protects nursing homes from abusive cuts, supports individuals battling mental health crises, and reins in fraud within the embattled Child Care Assistance Program.
‘We fought tooth and nail over this budget,” said Senate Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chair Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake). “I was hopeful we could agree on the kinds of transformational changes that would have lowered costs and improved Minnesotans lives, but at least we were able to take care of the basics. There are some reasons to be positive – we supported folks with mental health struggles and we began the process of rooting out waste and fraud, for example – but there is so much more that still needs to be done. I am disappointed that the democrats fought so hard to increase spending, with only minimal changes that would result in accountability in our budget.”
“Minnesotans are generous in their support of those who truly need it, like the frail elderly and people with disabilities,” said Senate Human Services Reform Chair Jim Abeler (R-Anoka). “This bill will help them become more independent and better enjoy life. It also cracks down on pervasive fraud in the state-funded childcare system, which will restore citizen’s faith in the $37 billion we spend in the human services arena.”
Creating a Blue Ribbon Panel to eliminate waste
The marquee item in the bill is the creation of a Blue Ribbon Panel tasked specifically with finding savings within Minnesota’s bloated and abuse-ridden Department of Human Services (DHS). In recent years DHS has been at the center of a number of controversies, including reports that the agency failed to collect $30 million in unpaid debt MinnesotaCare participants, that errors within the agency have wasted more than $200 million; and that Medical Assistance enrollees were receiving benefits they were not eligible for. Earlier this year the DHS inspector general resigned for failing to investigate child care assistance fraud.
Stopping child care assistance fraud
The bill addresses the ongoing child care assistance fraud scandal with stronger oversight measures and stricter reporting requirements that will restore integrity to the program. To combat fraud, the bill demands rigorous attendance record-keeping, applies penalties for failing to follow existing rules; appropriates funding for a case tracking system within the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to track investigations; increases fraud prevention grants; and imposes more precise rules about how individuals and entities can be disqualified from the program.
Supporting individuals with mental health struggles
Research shows 1 in 25 Minnesotans suffer from a serious mental illness, including a growing number of young people. Senate Republicans demanded more resources to help Minnesotans battling mental health crises and additional support for people of all ages working on their mental health recovery.
The bill funds student-linked mental health services and shelter linked youth mental health grants targeted specifically to improving children’s mental health. The bill also provides for more Mobile Crisis Centers, which are specialized teams of mental health professionals that provide rapid response services in individuals own homes, and a number of targeted mental health grants to improve recovery and wellness.
Helping people with disabilities
For too long, some people with disabilities have had to pay out of their own pockets in order to receive Medical Assistance benefits. This process is known as “spending down,” and can become incredibly expensive for individuals who are on meager incomes. This budget eliminates the discriminatory and unfair spenddown practice.
The bill also eases the financial burden on families who have children with disabilities by reducing TEFRA fees, which help these families become eligible for affordable Medical Assistance coverage.
Saving nursing homes from cuts
Despite a $1 billion surplus, Gov. Walz and House Democrats proposed a budget that would have caused nursing homes – particularly nursing homes in rural Minnesota – to suffer more than $200 million in cuts and made it more challenging to recruit and retain caregivers. Senate Republicans protected nursing homes from these cruel cuts.
Instead, Senate Republicans secured funding for nursing homes, provided a rate increase for disability and elderly service providers, and made it easier for nursing facilities to expand.
Protecting Minnesotans from a government takeover of health care
Senate Republicans also successfully defeated Gov. Walz’s proposed OneCare program, the massive government takeover of health care that the governor made a priority during the 2018 campaign and his first five months in office.