Mankato Free Press — April 16
As the Minnesota Legislature moves into the final weeks of the regular session, we see nursing home funding, housing and higher education as key issues that will need widespread support.
Nursing home crisis
Economic pressures and demographic changes have put the state’s nursing homes and other long-term care providers in a perilous situation. Families face the most dire situation in years for taking care of their loved ones.
There’s a shortage of 20,000 long-term care workers, about 20% of the total needed. Inflation, including the need for higher wages, has led providers to turn away some 11,000 families in just one month because state and federal reimbursement rates are woefully inadequate to cover costs. The result is that patients end up waiting for days in the emergency room or take up valuable hospital beds.
And the irony is that there are some 2,500 nursing home beds available statewide if providers could find workers to staff them.
Our View: Gov. Tim Walz’s plan included no increase for the nursing home reimbursement rate. That falls short.
Affordable housing, homeless
Democrats, now in control of all three governing bodies — House, Senate and governor’s office — vow to “go big” on housing investments. We hope they do. The surplus and unity in legislating provides a historic opportunity to bring housing issues to the forefront. The needs are clear from homelessness to affordable and workforce housing. Some 44% of renters in Minnesota pay more than 30% of their income in rent, a level considered a “cost burden,” according to various housing studies. A recent study of Mankato renters showed nearly 50% pay more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities.
Our View: A plan put forth by The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, which includes 100 member organizations statewide, and the Homes for All organization, which includes endorsements from 270 groups, proposed a plan last year for funding all of these needs that would be a good starting point for the Legislature. The entire housing agenda would cost about $1 billion, or about 2% of the $52 billion two-year state budget. And housing has long been a bipartisan issue. Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, has been the point person in the Republican Senate Caucus on affordable and workforce housing.
The Minnesota State university system has unveiled a bold proposal to keep tuition in check and invest in labs and training aimed at meeting the huge demand for workers throughout the state. But the tuition freeze has a price tag of about $75 million and is part of a larger budget request of $350 million to the Legislature that would go toward building labs and buying equipment to meet workforce needs and train students for jobs in demand.
The best thing about the funding request is the tuition freeze, but the overall plan also calls for investing $100 million in labs and equipment for the 26-school system to react quickly to workplace job demands. The plan calls for its business and industry partners to match that money dollar for dollar. And the second best part of the plan is that its effectiveness to grow jobs and meet the needs of employers will be specifically measured.
Our View: The system can point to successful programs in Mankato and around the state that quickly met the demands of new industries and new technologies. South Central College’s mechatronics program is a good example. And a recent effort to train certified nursing assistants for the needs of health care industry showed how quickly the system can train workers. On Thursday, the House passed the higher education bill worth $4.1 billion, the biggest investment in state history while freezing tuition. We support that effort. There will be many competing interests for the state’s $17.6 billion surplus. We believe these three issues should be top priorities.