MN GOP say nursing homes are left behind in DFL $1.3 billion human services budget – Twin Cities

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate on Friday approved a massive spending bill for human services that Republicans say doesn’t provide enough money to help struggling nursing homes.

The legislation includes $1.3 billion in new money, which is a 16 percent increase over current funding and one of the biggest spending boosts in the next budget. The new funds would go to help care for the state’s most vulnerable including seniors, the chronically ill and Minnesotans with disabilities with a priority on home and community based services.

“This bill changes people’s lives. It creates the autonomy and independence for people with disabilities,” said Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, the primary sponsor of the bill. “It encourages choice of care services and really honors the diversity of those care needs.”

The legislation was approved with a 35-32 vote and now heads to the House. It is part of the next state budget the Legislature is working to finalize that will top $72 billion and spend most of the historic $17.5 billion budget surplus.

Loans

With that much money to work with, Republicans were highly critical of what they said was a lack of support for struggling nursing homes. The legislation includes $100 million for zero-interest loans for nursing homes, but not the $200 million in new funding GOP members had hoped.

“This bill to me is a tragedy,” said Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, who has focused on long-term care issues at the Capitol. “All of the nursing homes are hanging by a thread.”

Loans will not be much help, nursing home advocates say, because many nursing homes are hesitant to take on more debt and need a more permanent solution.

“I am disheartened to see this year’s Human Services budget not provide more aggressive support for nursing homes across the state,” said Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, the lone Republican to vote for the bill.

Reimbusement

Hoffman noted that the way Minnesota reimburses nursing homes and long-term care can often mean they wait as long as 18 months to be paid for services. That has been a big financial hurdle as inflation has jumped and nursing homes have struggled to keep staff because of low wage rates.

“The length of time they wait to get reimbursed is a systems problem,” Hoffman said. The $100 million in loans is designed to keep struggling nursing homes afloat until higher reimbursement rates for services kick in, he said.

Moreover, the legislation includes $654 million in the next two-year budget of new spending to care for people on medical assistance across a variety of programs. The bill also puts $90 million into long-term care worker bonuses and $3 million to aid ‘critical access’ nursing homes in rural areas.

Nevertheless, nursing home advocates say the legislation is unlikely to put a dent in their staffing challenges. They note that, on average, 450 referrals for care are denied per day and 20,000 caregiver positions are open.

“We, as long-term care leaders, call upon our state’s legislators to reassess their priorities and recognize the urgent need for robust funding and sustainable solutions that can address the crisis at hand,” members of the Long-term Care Imperative, said in a statement.

It is unlikely the spending bill will change. It heads to the House for a vote and if it is approved it will go to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature.

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