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Division hears about possible boost for low-income family assistance program

Minnesotan households enrolled in the Minnesota Family Investment Program have limited access to assistance initiatives related to COVID-19, but are still in significant need, said Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan).

“These folks don’t have other resources” and are not receiving unemployment insurance, she told the House Health and Human Services Finance Division during a remote informational hearing Monday.

Halverson sponsors a yet-to-be-introduced bill, which, as amended, would appropriate $13.85 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to provide one-time cash benefits for the nearly 27,000 families enrolled in MFIP or the Diversionary Work Program – up to $500 each.

No action was taken by the division.

In addition to not being eligible for unemployment insurance, families on MFIP also may not receive, or be able to access, the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus relief checks, said Jessica Webster, a staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

“When you are living penny to penny, the uncertainty of the situation right now only adds to the stress of a family,” said Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton). “This additional assistance … it’s an investment in our families.”

The amended bill would also appropriate $92,000 from the General Fund to cover administrative costs, and $6,000 for IT support needed to administer the benefit.

Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) and Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) said they want to ensure the funding would be limited to people who will not receive other support – via federal stimulus relief, unemployment insurance, or housing subsidies.

“There’s so many programs and so many different monies that are becoming available to people,” Munson said.


Temporary PCA rate-increase approved

The division also voted 16-2 to approve HF168, which, as amended, would temporarily increase Personal Care Assistant rates by 15% and increase the month’s limit of hours a PCA can provide under Medical Assistance from 275 hours to 310 hours.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth), would also temporarily suspend a prohibition on paying parents and spouses providing PCA care to their loved ones.

HF168 now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee. Schultz said similar language is moving through the Senate in a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka).

PCAs are “out there on the front lines … going into people’s homes to help them meet their most basic care needs,” despite the risk of infection and low pay, said Natasha Merz, director of the Department of Human Services’ Disability Services Division.

They are vitally important for allowing people with disabilities and older adults to shelter in place and stay safe, but low pay and increased need have caused additional strain to an already strained system, advocates said.

Of the rate increase, 80% would be used for wage increases and benefits – including paid leave – and 20% would be used to provide personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to protect both PCAs and their clients.

A preliminary fiscal note indicates a cost of $26.21 million over the current biennium and an additional cost of $2.35 million in the following biennium.

Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne) asked for confirmation on where the funding would come from, saying that he would much prefer to draw from federal funding intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic, as opposed to the state’s General Fund.

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