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Minnesota Legislature

Penalties added as omnibus health and human services bill advances

With investments in home visiting, early care and child care assistance, the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division approved its omnibus health and human services bill Thursday on a 6-3 party-line vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) HF1801, as amended, now heads to the House Health and Human Services Finance Division.

“We are driving forward hard to ensure the integrity of each one of these programs,” Pinto said in closing.

“Recognizing that a critical part of a program’s integrity is having that program actually be fully funded rather than have kids and families be waiting and languishing,” he added. “We’re taking a step to rectify that today, and I’m really glad that we’re doing so.”

One of the most contentious parts of the bill would increase funding for the state’s child care assistance program, a proposal Republican members worked to amend.

Aiming to add “teeth” to anti-fraud provisions in the bill, Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) offered an amendment that was approved in part.

“Taxpayers are demanding accountability for their dollars,” she said. “Every dollar invested in this program is important and bringing integrity back into this along with other public programs is very crucial.”

Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka) successfully requested the amendment be divided. The approved portion would revoke a provider’s quality rating and prohibit them from receiving payment through early learning scholarships. 

“If you’re violating public trust and conducting business in a way that doesn’t follow the rules,” she said, “then you shouldn’t be able to take money from these other programs either or even get that acknowledgement of having a star rating.”

Both Rep. Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring) and Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa) unsuccessfully offered amendments that would redirect increased child care assistance funding to provide more early learning scholarships and to the Northstar Care for Children Program, respectively.

Noting that Heintzeman’s amendment would do more than redirect the funds, Pinto took issue with provisions that would upend bringing the state’s program into federal compliance and also remove assistance for families that are homeless.

“I feel like it’s putting kids and families who are languishing on the CCAP waiting list — and are in desperate need of child care assistance — putting them up against kids who are in foster care, who are in need of adoption,” he said. “I don’t feel that is an appropriate trade off.”

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