Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With today being the first committee deadline, it’s been a busy week with many late nights in the legislature. (First deadline means that all policy bills need to have a hearing either in the House or Senate in order to continue moving towards the floor for a vote.)
If you follow my legislative Facebook page, I will be doing more short videos and posts in order to keep constituents up-to-date on the fast pace of happenings during the last two months of the legislative session. I have posted on the topics covered below.
This week, most of our discussions – and concern – has been focused on the negative impacts that our winter weather is having across our state: relief for farmers dealing with barn collapses, flood relief, and schools dealing with snow days. I’ve also included an update on the Child Care Fraud report.
First, I want to share some photos from Disability Action Day. Meeting with these constituents and their advocates was definitely a highlight of my week. I am still hopeful that we can rectify a 7% pay cut that these care workers have faced for the past two years. I urge the majority caucus and the Governor to make this a priority and bring this bill to the House floor.
Disaster Relief for Farmers
I met with area dairy farmers and with local insurance agents about our heavy snowfall causing the collapse of numerous barns and farm buildings in recent weeks. As a result of these hardships, many dairy farmers have endured enormous losses, with some being forced to sell their livestock. Yesterday afternoon the legislature approved a bill to make disaster recovery loans available to farmers whose barns have recently collapsed. The legislation authorizes the Minnesota Rural Finance Authority to issue Disaster Recovery Loans to farmers whose property sustained damage retroactively to Jan. 1, 2019.
I felt it was crucial that we provide farmers with some relief by making these no-interest loans available to help them recover and get back on their feet. Our area farmers are some of the hardest working folks I know and any impact to our dairy farmers has a ripple effect throughout our rural economies. I was proud to speak on behalf of this relief bill on the House floor and look forward to the governor’s signature.
Given the massive amounts of snow we’ve received this winter, we're anticipating some serious and dangerous flooding when the snow eventually melts. For our communities sitting on the Mississippi River, this is an especially relevant threat.
I’m coauthoring legislation to replenish needed funding for our state's disaster assistance contingency account, which currently sits empty and lacks the financial resources to effectively respond to these floods. The bill would transfer $20 million in 2019 and another $20 million in 2020 to the account, effective the day after final enactment. The account is now in the red after Minnesota responded with $11 million in relief to flooding events last year in Brainerd and Duluth. We spent $11 million a year ago when we didn’t have a record snowfall waiting to melt. Our responsibility as a legislature is to be proactive in allocating the funding now to ensure impacted cities can immediately respond when waters begin to rise.
Child Care Fraud
This week we received a report from the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) regarding the misuse of state dollars in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). The report details widespread fraud in the CCAP program, and indicates that a lack of internal controls at the Department of Human Services makes fraud prosecutions difficult.
I'm coauthoring a handful of bills this year to hold the centers accountable, to prevent future fraud and to help restore the child care program's integrity. Instead of ending up in the hands of fraudsters, we must make sure this funding is going to its intended purpose – to help low-income families afford child care. Ultimately, I am hopeful this report will prompt the House DFL majority to finally allow these bills to move forward.
The record snow and cold weather this winter has also impacted local schools as there have been plenty of school cancellations this year. Current state law only allows for five “E-learning days” per school year. I'm authoring a bill to increase this number to allow for ten such days each year. For "one to one" schools in our area, E-learning days promote continuity of learning by allowing teachers to assign curriculum for students to complete even when they aren’t in the classroom. This fix will ensure students don't miss out on instructional days, but also don't have to go to school longer in the summer.
With area educators - John Auge and Ryan Hock from Wabasha and Vicki Lambert from Red Wing.
Had the opportunity to sit down with this group of art advocates from our area who stopped by during Minnesota Arts Advocacy Day.
Caught up with staff from Riverview Services in Red Wing to discuss issues surrounding home and community-based services for people living with disabilities.
Met with advocates from Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, including Katelyn Vonch from Common Bond in Red Wing and Lisa Wilcox-Erhardt from Common Bond in Cannon Falls.
With Susan and Stephanie Goetz and Tom Lehman - constituents from Red Wing who stopped by to discuss student mental health and the legislative process.
Staying in Touch
If you ever have any questions or concerns regarding any issue related to state government, please feel free to contact me. I can be best reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 651-296-8635.
Have a great weekend,