Greetings as we head into the final month before – brace for it – school is back in session!
It’s been a busy summer for me with various meetings and events in and around District 13A. Among the area highlights this week, I was grateful for the opportunity to attend a St. Cloud meeting hosted by the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota. We discussed issues related to providing care for our most vulnerable citizens at group homes and other facilities.
While legislators can hash over issues at great length in St. Paul, there simply is no substitute for getting my boots on the ground to meet with folks and learn how decisions at the Capitol impact them. The ARRM meeting is a prime example of that and the first-hand information I received will be very helpful to me as we take on related issues.
One of the most significant challenges these organizations face is hiring/retaining skilled workers to provide care for vulnerable citizens. Facilities are experiencing vacant beds not so much because of a lack of demand, but due to a worker shortage caused, in part by state reimbursement rates that do not support higher pay. These personnel issues can result in dangerous environments for care providers and care recipients alike.
I mentioned to the group that scholarships throughout the 30 colleges in the Minnesota State system are available to people looking to pursue high-demand occupations such as this. A recent email I sent includes more details and you can click here for that.
We also discussed how important it is to be scrupulous as we continue working to root out fraud, waste and abuse in state programs. There is no question that we need to tighten up state programs that have hemorrhaged tax dollars over the years such as with child care fraud. The key is to identify ways we can better protect tax dollars without heaping an even larger regulatory burden on our small businesses, consuming more and more man hours on paperwork for the state. Spotty internet availability in certain parts of our district and state can only compound matters.
Another interesting point of discussion regarding care for vulnerable citizens tends to fly under the radar. When people are unable to receive the help they need, it often contributes to overbooked emergency rooms and jails – failing citizens and overwhelming other aspects of public safety.
The bottom line is the needs for long-term care support are far and wide and I look forward to bringing the insight I gained this week’s meeting back to St. Paul.
In other news, House Speaker Melissa Hortman announced a mini special session will take place in Winona Oct. 2-4. This would be a good time to conduct legislative hearings to examine the recent turmoil at the Minnesota Department of Human Services when a mini legislative session takes place this fall. I co-authored a letter on Tuesday asking Speaker Hortman to place DHS hearings on the agenda.
In part, the letter reads:
“To date, Minnesotans have received no clear explanation for the leadership shakeup at our state's largest agency. If indeed there are internal conflicts about the direction of DHS that caused Commissioner Lourey to resign after just six months, Minnesotans have a right to know and to be involved in the discussion about those disagreements and the direction of the agency. DHS is responsible for billions of dollars in state and federal spending; these decisions are not abstract – they impact the lives of more than a million Minnesotans.”
Concerns have been raised over a lack of urgency and transparency with an investigation into DHS Inspector General Carolyn Ham’s role in allowing pervasive fraud to take place in the Child Care Assistance Program. District 13A constituents are demanding answers for what’s going on at DHS and hearings could help shed some light.
With the mini special session as a backstop, we must continue pressing DHS and the governor’s administration to lift this shroud of secrecy now and start providing better customer service to Minnesotans whose tax dollars are at stake. Placing DHS hearings on the agenda for October might provide the incentive necessary for DHS and the governor to do a better job of communicating with the public on these issues.
One thing we should note: While House hearings can take place during the special session scheduled for Winona, state statute bars official action on bills from taking place outside St. Paul.
Look for more news soon and, as always, your feedback is welcome.