Legislative Notebook: House DFL proposes more nursing home money, but no specifics
ST. PAUL – Many workers who care for Minnesota’s elderly have not seen pay raises for up to six years, but House Democrats promise higher pay is on the way.
“The rates we are paying these providers are so low, most (long-term care facilities) have at least 50 percent turnover rate,” Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said.
Huntley and Rep. Patti Fritz, DFL-Faribault, announced Thursday the House Health and Human Services bill to be announced next week will include more money for nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, as well as personal care attendants. However, Huntley said he did not know how much of an increase his bill will include.
Huntley is chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, responsible for $5 billion in spending over the next two years. House leaders told Huntley to cut $150 million from current spending, but he said on Thursday he did not know where he would cut.
“We are going to make some tough cuts in other areas,” Huntley said.
If lawmakers opt for a 1 percent increase in long-term care funding, Huntley said, that would cost about $30 million.
Huntley said that however much long-term care funding increases, he would expect 75 percent to 80 percent of the new money to go to wages.
The Long-Term Care Imperative reported that the average their facilities pay nursing assistants is $12.03 an hour, compared to $17.82 hospitals pay.
Fritz and other rural lawmakers said the pay is closer to $9 an hour at nursing homes in their areas.
Many nursing assistants stay on their jobs because they feel it is a public service, Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, said. “Somebody needs to help these people, so they stick it out.”
Republicans said they know nursing homes are underfunded, but are concerned about the DFL plan. Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, said nursing homes are “really strapped.”
“If our goal is to give hardworking nursing home and long-term care staff a raise, we need to do so in a way that’s sustainable, fair and transparent,” Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, said. “It is my hope these proposed increases don’t come on the backs of our hospitals.”
Schomacker said while Democrats propose cutting $150 million from health spending, they also want to “increase over $2 billion in taxes on hardworking Minnesotans.”
Minnesota long-term care facilities employ nearly 90,000 workers.
Two Republican lawmakers want to make sure there is enough money to pay for Vikings stadium construction before building begins.
“The revenue isn’t coming in,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said.
She and Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, have offered legislation to delay any state bond sales to fund construction until the governor produces a “proven revenue source.”
Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators designated electronic pulltabs as the source of repaying bonds that are to be sold to build the stadium. But e-pulltab revenue is far behind what was projected.
Dayton said there is no need for immediate action, and pulltab revenue may improve.
“It is irresponsible,” Franson said of that attitude.
If pulltabs do not bring in enough money, Franson said, she fears money would have to come from the state’s general fund, pulling money from places such as nursing homes.
In her area, Franson said, people like the old paper pulltabs used to raise money for charities. Only taxes from electronic devices are used for the stadium.
Nienow agreed with Franson: “Are we really going to build a sports stadium and take money from education, health care and maintaining roads? In whose world is that a good idea?”
Bullying bill questioned
More than two dozen senators asked the state attorney general Thursday to weigh in on whether an anti-bullying bill making its way through the state Legislature is constitutional.
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, authored a letter requesting the analysis immediately.
The bill by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, would require school districts to create and implement a bullying policy and plan. They also would have to handle bullying issues at schools, on buses and sometimes online.
Ortman said the bill “would give state government new sweeping power and control over local school districts, and create expensive and complex administrative and supervisory burdens for local school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers.”
She also argued the state already has an anti-bullying law that allows local districts to enforce violations and encourages awareness, outreach and sensitivity training.
During testimony on the bill, some school officials said it could infringe on rights, especially at religious and private schools.