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Minnesota Legislature

HHS members hear stopgap funding proposals

As lawmakers consider their next steps in Minnesota’s ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic, the House Health and Human Services Finance Division on Wednesday held its second meeting in as many days.

Members met Tuesday to discuss several changes meant to help health care providers and their patients. Wednesday’s focus was slightly different, with the division considering proposals meant mainly to fund existing programs that help long-term care residents and the homeless cope with COVID19. No action was taken.

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), the division’s chair, told members that, because coronavirus relief funds provided by the federal government can only be used through the end of the year, the state must soon find money for these programs or they face a funding “cliff” and may have to end.

“There are some very critical items that we need to continue with state funding while we wait for the federal government to step up and fill the gap again,” Liebling said.  

Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) sponsors the first proposal heard by the division Wednesday. It would appropriate $17.5 million to help people experiencing homelessness over the next few months and ensure a strong system remains in place to provide shelter to some of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

The proposal has three main components:

  • $9 million would be used to provide additional shelter space — through vouchers for motels, hotels or other housing options — to promote the health and safety of the homeless, along with the needed staffing and supplies;
  • $4.3 million would be used to help establish or maintain Isolation spaces for those who test positive for the virus or are awaiting results; and
  • $4.2 million would be used to maintain access to housing through the end of February 2021.

Liebling sponsors the second proposal discussed during Wednesday’s hearing. It would appropriate $6.4 million to maintain assistance for the state’s long-term care facilities. The funding would pay for things such as on-site specimen collections, Department of Health staff who go in to the facilities to provide help and a nurse triage phone line.

It would also allow the department to create four new “strike teams” of specialists who could be deployed to facilities experiencing an outbreak to assist and teach existing staff how to manage the crisis.

With Wednesday’s announcement that Gov. Tim Walz will call the year’s seventh special session next Monday, Liebling said she is working with her Senate counterparts to ensure the proposals the division heard this week on an informational basis will become bills that can be passed next week.

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