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State senator's questions pause federal spending

ST. PAUL -- A state senator says he blocked spending $60 million of federal health program money in Minnesota because he did not have enough information about how the money would be spent.

"It is my intention to give every federal grant scrutiny," Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Tuesday after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton scolded him for blocking spending that would improve Minnesotans' health.

Hann, however, said Dayton commissioners told him that none of the money in question would go directly to sick Minnesotans.

Dayton earlier said $25 million was involved.

Funds being questioned would go to programs ranging from regulating water wells to keeping elderly Minnesotans in their homes longer.

The Democratic governor called Hann's action "undemocratic and unconscionable."

The senator is a member of the Legislative Advisory Commission and requested more information about some federal programs, a request that under state law stopped the state from receiving the federal money.

Dayton administration officials are preparing a new request to Washington that they hope will either get the commission's approval or at least not produce an objection. Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget plans to submit the new documents accepting federal funds under an "urgent" banner, which could get around any Legislative Advisory Commission veto.

Dayton and his commissioners said thousands of Minnesota could lose health assistance in the next five years, including:

- Those who could benefit from $18 million in aid to people with chronic diseases.

- Children who could receive cancer diagnosis quicker.

- More than a million Minnesotans who use private wells for drinking water; a federal program provides money to manage the wells.

- Senior citizens who could be identified as having dementia earlier and speed treatment.

- Elderly Minnesotans who could remain in their homes longer rather than going to facilities such as nursing homes.

Dayton's commissioners said none of the federal programs would require added state money, and when the programs end there would be no need for the state to continue them.

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said she would expect the federal programs to reduce state spending in the long term because they would result in healthier Minnesotans that would not require as much state health aid.

"Sen. Hann's unilateral action puts his own personal ideology before the welfare of many thousands of Minnesotans," said Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick. "This is an egregious abuse of legislative authority, and one more reason we cannot afford the extreme political agenda of the current GOP-led legislature."

Hann responded to Dayton's remarks with: "Frankly, I'm troubled by the governor's personal, hostile attacks on me."

The senator said that he just wants to get more information on how the money would be spent, and the law required the state to reject the funds once he began asking questions. He said he still does not have enough information.

"The grant requests were vague," Hann said.

As chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Hann said, he likely will call a committee meeting to discuss the federal grants and recommend whether they should be accepted.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.